Ch 7.2 Hierarchy vs. Territory: Mastering Your Writing Domain
There are many nuggets of inspiration in War of Art by Steven Pressfield (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.
This goes beyond the "work is its own reward" trope. Staying focused on working territorially keeps the debilitating effects of hierarchical thinking from beating you down. Now, I'm not normally a competitive person, but when you hang out with some amazingly successful people, it's hard not to have that affect you.
When fellow Indelible Addison Moore hit the NYTimes bestseller list with her novel, Someone to Love, I honestly, genuinely, could not have been happier for Addison. I was thrilled for her as a friend and fellow writer. I was proud we had another NYTimes bestselling Indelible (Chelsea Cameron was up there too, with My Favorite Mistake). 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.
Yet it still nagged 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.
Now, there's nothing wrong with looking at a hot-selling genre and thinking, Hey, maybe I'll try that! One of the freedoms of indie is that you can chase after a trend if you wish. And I'm 100% on board with stretching yourself to try something new, if it's calling to you.
But this wasn't a siren calling to me. It was a green-eyed demon whispering nasty things in my ear.
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 I need to write. They are my domain, my "vein of gold" (see Give Yourself A Creative Retreat) 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.
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: 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.