Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hierarchy vs. Territory: Finding Your Writing Domain

War of Art by Steven Pressfield

There are many nuggets of inspiration in War of Art (I highly recommend it), but I'm going to highlight the section where Pressfield describes dealing with writerly competition in Territory vs. Hierarchy (I'm paraphrasing): 
We (as humans and writers) define our place in the world either by Hierarchy (a social pecking order) or by Territory (a turf or domain). For the artist/writer, Hierarchy is that destructive urge to compete against others, to evaluate our success by our rank within the hierarchy of writers, and to write based on the effect it produces on the hierarchy. Pressfield insists the writer must operate territorially: to do work for its own sake, inwardly focused. Territorial work provides sustenance - the writer puts work in and receives back well-being; similarly the territory of our creations can only be claimed by the work we put into it. The artist who commands their domain is satisfied by the creation itself; the work is its own reward.
What is all this fluff and nonsense? :) Actually, there is tremendous wisdom in this part of the book (among others; again, go read it).

Example.
That's freaking Addison Moore, Indelible Author, right there at #10!!!

Recently, fellow Indelible Addison Moore hit the NYTimes bestseller list with her novel, Someone to Love. I honestly, genuinely, could not be happier for Addison. I'm thrilled for her as a friend and fellow writer. I'm proud that we have another NYTimes bestselling Indelible (Chelsea Cameron was up there too, with My Favorite Mistake). I'm not a jealous person, in general, so I'm not even a teensy bit green-eyed-monster over this great news. Seriously. Addison has tons of books out, has been self-pubbing for a couple years, has sold a zillion books and optioned her Celestra series to 20th Century Fox. If I was going to be jealous of her success, I would have had plenty to be jealous of before now. I'm just simply thrilled for her.

However.

While the Hierarchy Urge doesn't make me jealous, it does nag at me whispering, Wow, see all those smexy contemp love stories topping the bestseller charts? Why aren't you writing one of those? You could be a success, too!

And that's when I stop writing, eat chocolate, and sulk, wondering what the heck I'm doing with my life.

Back, you demon!

This is where Pressfield's advice really works for me. I love smexy contemp love stories - they're fun and light-hearted and sexy - but they're not the stories that speak to me on a deeply personal level. And those stories, the ones I dream scenes about and demand that I write them even though they may be horrific genre mashups and maybe no one will ever buy them? Those are the ones that I need to write. They are my domain, my "vein of gold" where what I write isn't just a story, it's a piece of me. When I'm writing those, I feel the sustenance, the well-being that comes from creation. The chocolate goes back in the cupboard and my hands fly across the keyboard.

And then I get a review like this, on something I've written while in "my domain":

"For me, Open Minds is about the depths of free will. In a society where there is no privacy, not even within one's own head and with one's own thoughts, can you ever truly be yourself? Will the instant knowledge of every whim and desire enhance personal relationships, or hinder them? And what freedom can exist in a world where a small percentage of people can force others to their will, without those exploited even knowing?"

Yes. That. Those words from a reader remind me of what I already know: that while I wrote that story, I was living those themes, caring deeply about them, rendering them onto the page. I was creating something that was important to me. I was writing Territorially.

So I shake off the demon of Hierarchical Thinking, blow loving kisses to Addison on her awesome adventure on the NYTimes list, and go back to my domain, where I craft the stories that speak to me and hope that, when they're released into the world, they will speak to others as well.

Open Minds is on sale for ONE MORE DAY
(back to normal price after 1/17)
$2.99 now $0.99
until 1/17

$9.99 now $7.99
until 1/17

7 comments:

  1. I totally understand what you're saying. I want to feel passionate about every book I write and that usually comes down to the themes and what I love to read and write. But, for those who want to follow a trend, I think that's okay too because in this day and age with self publishing, it's highly possible to get work out there while readers are still looking for a certain kind of book.

    For me, it's finding that balance. A theme I love and care about with a premise that is marketable too. But I'm also willing to write a story that I absolutely love without caring if anyone reads it or not.

    Congrats to Addison! Woo hoo!

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    1. I agree that being indie and writing fast allows us to follow trends in a way that wasn't possible before. And for someone who already writes in a trending genre, or wants to stretch and give it a try, I give them a hearty thumbs up! This was more about feeling like you have to do that, in order to be successful. I don't think you have to, and in some cases, that can shut down the creative process altogether. It's more about internal motivation than anything else, and finding what works for you.

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  2. Big fan of Chelsea's. :-) ill have to check out Addison, too.

    The quote is so right. The work needs to be enough. Wishing for success, and being envious of other's, is like wishing for love: You'll spend more time looking-for than being-in if you're not careful. I love my author friends and, like you, truly celebrate their success. But it has to end with happiness for them.

    I've spent most of my somewhat nominal writing life trying to write what I 'thought' I should be writing (what agents wanted to read, what was most like the books I enjoyed, etc.) Only last year did I finally give up and say, "I'm going to write what I want to write, and tell the story how I want to tell it." Not necessarily the formula for runaway success, but it led me to truly finding my niche/voice/territory in all of this. And it's the thing that's going to keep me writing 10 years from now. Knowing who and what you are as a writer is so much more important than trying to emulate a formula for success.

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    1. I love this EJ! And I truly believe that finding that niche/voice/territory is what brings out the uniqueness that is YOU. And, as writers and artists, our uniqueness is TRULY the thing that is our real contribution to the art (and the thing that will, I believe, bring you success in the end).

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  3. I totally understand what you mean about how it's easy to compare yourself to other writers, because I've been doing that a lot lately. And the worst part was that it gave me writer's block. But like you said, it's better to write in your own domain and to write about what really interests you. Otherwise, you'd be more likely to get bored writing about something that wasn't what you wanted to write.

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  4. A very timely post, as always, Sue! I'm totally on the same page as you. I have to write what's in me to write, and not look to current successful trends.

    And, you are already a big success, even without the NYT!

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  5. Unless you're simply writing to make money (good luck with that), you have to write the stories that mean something to you. The ones that live in your head, the ones that force you to obsess over them, and even the ones that scare you. The ones that pull you out of yourself even as they push you deeper inside.

    So, yeah. I agree. :)

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers