Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cart Before The Horse

So I started writing this post in the morning, and it totally wasn't coming out like I wanted. I've deleted like three versions. They sounded accusatory, a little mean. That is not how I want to put this, because I have been there—and go back there more than I'd like.

Sometimes we spend a lot more time acting like a writer instead of actually being a writer, if that makes sense.

Being a writer is, well, about writing. Plain and simple. The rest is extra—from networking to socializing to agents to publishing to lists and awards. It seems at times people want the "stuff" that comes with writing without actually being serious about writing.

I certainly don't want to point fingers. I am not saying anyone I know is like this. I've just been thinking about my own feelings lately. Whenever I get really down, I hate to admit it's usually because I'm looking at what I don't have as a writer. It's like I care more about my name on a book instead of how great the story is inside.

So not proud of that.

Then I slap myself out of it, appalled. What am I thinking? Is that why I'm writing? Is that what makes me happy when I write? Funnily enough, the more I think about The Stuff the more I hate writing! The less I get done! It's because I put the cart before the horse.

But when it comes down to it, none of that really matters. I know, here I am blogging and saying stuff doesn't matter. I guess I'm saying it's all icing. Yeah, icing is fine on its own, but you can only get so much from icing (like a raging sugar buzz and a stomach ache).

Writing good books is the cake, the substance. If you throw amazing frosting on a cardboard cake—it's still a cardboard cake. You're not fooling anyone. But if the cake is good? It stands on its own; maybe you don't even need frosting. I mean, sure, frosting is always a nice compliment, but good cake is what keeps people coming back.


  1. Very well said Natalie! The cake analogy is perfect. I know myself, I write for the gratification of completion. There's something satisfying about saying to yourself...I'm done. For those who look for that feeling without the hard work, they aren't writers, they're seekers. Seekers don't want to invest the hard work, the time and energy required to be a 'writer'. Sad though, they'll never really get the feeling of euphoria from the result of that hard work.

  2. Absolutely true. I have been there, done the same thing, become so obsessed with and anguished over the question of how I am going to get my writing "out there" that I don't have the willpower to actually write, write, write. And I completely lose faith in the stories, in and of themselves, to appeal to people.


  3. That cake analogy is the best I've read! So true -- I think a lot of people focus on the icing because it's easier. The cake is a lot harder to make GOOD. But nothing comes without hard work. Le sigh.

  4. Heard that!

    I'm getting pretty good at this blogging thing. Ask me when I last gave more than 3 hours to my MS in the same week...

    A writer blog with a writer who doesn't write. Oh, the irony!

  5. Poor Claire... I know your pain. And yet, here I am and over there... way over there... is my ms.

    When I decided to give my writing a shot, I have to admit that at least a little part of it was the prospect of getting my name out there. I made my blog and grabbed a bunch of connections and I have learned so much from many of them. I'm glad I did it.

    But after writing seriously (for even the short time I have been) I quickly discovered it's not an easy job. You have to really LOVE to write if you want to be good at it. It's not as easy as it looks. :) I love it, I'm totally hooked and I am not giving up!

    Great post!

  6. Great post, Natalie.

    The best part of being a writer is the writing. It is easy to forget that sometimes...and we ALL do it at some point.

    I hate when I get into that dark place where a bunch of the "extras" start to matter more than the actual writing.

    You are so right about good cake keeping people coming back!


  7. Reading this made me realize that I should get off the internet and go back to my WIP, sitting minimized in my task bar..


  8. Great reminder of why we write! Sometimes I feel the same way, and it usually gets me discouraged. Usually the best thing to do is jump back into my story and remember-- oh yeah! I'm writing this because I want to tell this awesome story.

    Good luck with your own writing!

  9. In this post, are you saying it's bad to write for money, or fame?

    It seems like you are. Well I definitely disagree. All you need is a reason to want to write. It doesn't matter what that reason is. Be it money, fame or personal gratification.

    I really like your blog though!

  10. You're totally right. I think that's why so many people say they want to write books without actually writing anything, because they think it's easy. But as you said, it's a lot of hard work, but it's worth it once you produce some good writing.

  11. I had one of those moments today, where I thought 'This story is so good. I believe in it.' And right away my mind went to envisioning the physical book, and signing copies over and over, and doing interviews, and casting for the movie, because of course it will be a movie! Then I wasn't happy at all. I felt like crap. So I reminded myself that liking my story (Me. Liking. My. Story.) is what really truly matters. the grass is pretty dang green, right here in Hawaii.

  12. This is so true. I'm guilty of doing the same thing at times. We have to take everything a step at a time, relish that step, and know that with patience and hard work the horse and the cart will come. Great post.

  13. This is so true and the cake analogy is excellent. Lots to think about. Thanks for sharing.

  14. To me, blogging is writing. I use my blog to practice, but I do try to spend 15-20 hours a week on my MS. I am a writer. Tapping into that is what gets me up every morning, so I have to believe it. Some may question if I am, but that is okay. We all do what we have to do. :)

  15. Great post! I love the cake analogy. It's so true! Thank you for reminding me, why I started writing in the first place. :D

  16. I love the cake analogy and everything it stands for. Thanks, Natalie!

  17. This is so me, and I'm fully aware of it. At least it's a tiny bit comforting to know I'm not the only one. I phrase it as - 'Sometimes I like the idea of being a writer more than actually writing.' Yeah. I gotta snap out of that. Thanks for the reminder!

  18. Good stuff, Natalie! As a freelance manuscript editor, I've occasionally had clients ask me to have a quick look at their second book because they want to start marketing it along with their first book. So I go to their website and read the excerpts from their first novel, which they're already hyping there. It quickly becomes obvious to me that they should have done a lot more revising on that first novel, and contacted me or another copyeditor before they started putting that one out there. They definitely put the cart before the horse! But by then they don't want to bother with that one, because they want to start marketing the second one -- fast! Then they wonder why they're not selling. Hmmm...

  19. This is the very reason I've decided to drop Twitter and blog way less and only what I want to because writing is what I want to do, what I've always wanted to do, just for the sake of it. It's what makes me happy.

    Life is too short to ever settle for being less happy than you can be and especially over something like social media for crying out loud!

    I've even gone so far as to pull the plug on my personal process of seeking an agent for the foreseeable future because there are things in my life- family, trying to preserve my remaining eyesight and health, and writing itself, that mean more to me than that frosting.

    Like you I want to 'make really great cakes', even if they're just little cupcakes that are only ever noticed by a few people. They'd still be mine.

    Thank you for this.


  20. What Claire Dawn said.

    Blogging is hard for me because it is easy for me. I get an instant reward. A fix, if you will. I can splat my post right out there, call it writing practice (which it actually is), and feel productive.

    Then I remember my WIP. Oy.

    Thanks, Natalie, for the reminder. Very honest. Very true.

  21. natalie, from across the vast pacific ocean you have read my mind. i often find myself more caught up in the intricacies of the publishing world, more than I do in my writing. when i catch myself thinking that the life of a blogger would make a good story, i cut myself off. spending time off-line for a couple of days (or hours)kick starts the creative juices again no problems.

  22. Natalie, thank you for putting a label on what I'm feeling right now. My first query went out via snail mail about two weeks ago. I know that I should get to work on another book, but instead I've been lurking around author and agent blogs, to learn more about the writing industry.

    Tomorrow, I'll take my crazy self and my iPad back to my writing desk!

  23. This post makes me feel so much better....have been feeling guilty about just writing and reading, and not networking at all.

    Everything makes sense once we remember why we write, because we enjoy writing, and because we want to write well.

  24. You said, "Funnily enough, the more I think about The Stuff the more I hate writing! The less I get done! It's because I put the cart before the horse."

    This is so true for me - I had to examine over the last few weeks why I wasn't feeling the excitement over the 4th book as I did with the others, but when I sat back, I realized I was feeling burned out - all the social networking and worry over sales and etc etc etc was taking me to a place that wasn't as enjoyable or didn't feel as wonderful as the creating on its own does.

    Honest and apt post.

  25. I agree with you 100%. I've met people who spent major money on their website, but have no publishing credits yet. I feel like I fight this in my own writing life because the trend now is - "Get out there and build your platform NOW!" I think being business savvy is important, but it all has to come back to the writing in the end.

  26. Mmm... cake...

    No seriously, excellent analogy. When I graduated college, I spent a year flailing. The year after that, I gorged on the publishing industry, The Stuff. This past year, I've worked towards balance, between being a writer and acting like one. You're right: it's a huge difference, and I'm MUCH happier being than acting.

  27. Wow, this one hits so close to home for me.

    I recently wandered from the writing path to do a lot of things I convinced myself needed to be done.

    While I was gone, weeds grew along the way--almost consuming the whole darn thing--and it took me twice as long to get back on the straight and narrow.

  28. Spot on, Natalie! The hard part is that all that other stuff can be so much more fun than slogging away at a novel, word by word. Takes so much discipline to put first things first! But it's true--we won't be remembered for the number of times we tweet, but for the number of excellent novels we write.

  29. I'm hooked on your blog now. This post rocked. When I break down my writing time, the biggest chunks seem to go to planning which publishers I'll submit to and comparing my unfinished work to the best of the best sellers. Why do we do this?! Now - officially logging off and doing some of the actual "writing" part of writing.