I am Sisyphus…

Question of the day: are you insane to think your writing means anything?  The question of whether you are a nut-job or not is rather easily answered.  It all depends on your expectations.  And your motivation.  And what ‘meaning’ means to you.  Do you write because you love to write or because you see it as your ticket to fame?  Do you publish because you are proud of your work and hope that maybe a handful of people will enjoy it or because you expect a royalty check that will buy you a Ferrari?  If you write because you love it, you’re all good.  If you publish because you want to share your work, great.  If you expect to be recognized for your efforts…or to profit from them…you are in for a rude awakening.

Allow me a moment of misanthropy here.  Most people are boring.  Let me explain what I mean.  Imagine yourself at a cocktail party.  Chances are, you will spend 90% of the party making inane small talk that doesn’t challenge you intellectually, doesn’t force you to step outside your ‘comfort zone’, doesn’t introduce you to any new ideas or make you question your existing beliefs…you will have a series of short conversations that will leave no impression on you at all.  You will not remember them the next day.  They filled time.  That’s all.

Every so often you go to a party and you randomly have a really interesting, really stimulating, really funny and creative conversation with someone.  Often you are guided to it.  A friend will grab you by the arm with the old ‘you have to talk to X, you’re going to love him.”

Most people just aren’t that interesting.  I’m not saying they are bad people.  This is an important distinction.  There’s nothing wrong with being boring.  In fact, boring people are quite important.  But the fact that they are the majority should tell you something.

Now, let’s make the cocktail party a book store (we’ll pretend they still exist) and the people at the party are books.  Writers love to pick on Twilight.  And if you love sparkly vampires more power to you, but most writers don’t.  And here’s why.  Twilight took the literary world by storm.  It got people who never read to actually pick up a book.  And it is not that good.  I will freely admit that I did not make it past the first page when someone gave my wife a copy, but that is because I read the first page and said, ‘there’s no way in hell I’m reading this’.  But there are millions of people who think it is the greatest book ever written and many of those people have never heard of The Great Gatsby.  They would never consider taking on The Count of Monte Cristo or reading a ‘weird’ book like Breakfast of Champions.  And those are BIG, FAMOUS books.  I’m not even going to get into the amazing books that have been written and read by a few hundred people.

Capitalism = mediocrity when it comes to the arts.  And the reason is quite simple. Those boring people at the cocktail party are the ones we have to sell books to if we want to ‘make it’.  The majority of people who buy my book or visit my blog are other writers.  Sure, there are moments when I fantasize that somehow the Coen Brothers will stumble across my novel, love it, make it into a movie and then send me a huge check.  But I try to be realistic.  And a much more realistic scenario is that I will sell some books for very little money, and that I will never be able to make a living from writing fiction.

There are fields where the cream rises to the top – that’s the whole point of the American Dream.  If you are the best basketball player in your High School, chances are fairly good that you will get a college scholarship.  If you stand out playing college ball…really stand out….chances are pretty good that the Pros will look at you.

If you are ‘the best’ in your professional field and you work hard, you will be promoted and, while you may not end up owning the company, you will make a good living.

If you are a great writer, chances are that no one will ever even know you exist…no matter how good you are or how hard you work.  That’s just reality.  Most people don’t read and when they do read, they read a national bestseller they have heard about or read about or been given as a present.  They don’t go scouring the internet to find the obscure wheat buried in the mountain of literary chaff that independent writers produce.

And the majority of writers, independent or otherwise, are ‘paint by the numbers’ writers.  Another reason writers hate Twilight is because, thanks to Stephenie Meyer, there are now thousands and thousands of mediocre writers churning out books about vampires that are even worse than Twilight.

This may all sound like sour grapes.  And on some level, it surely is, but not as much as you might think.  I don’t think I am the greatest writer of all time.  I don’t think I am the worst either.  I’ll settle for being good and  realistic.  Otherwise, writing becomes a game you play and can never win.  And it will drive you crazy.  Except for the random hail mary pass, most of us will march steadily towards the goal line and get part of the way downfield.  And that’s OK.  That’s the bargain you make as an artist.  The best bands, for the most part, never get rich.  The best painters may amaze their friends, but they aren’t selling million dollar paintings.  It’s a weird deal to make with the universe, but we do it.  You can either mimic something that has already been done and try to tap into an existing market or you can create what is true to you.  Maybe you’ll be the one in a thousand who takes that gamble and wins big.  Chances aren’t good.   But if you write for yourself…if you become part of the creative community and appreciate the people who do line their bookshelves or fill their kindles with wheat…well, you’ve got a good thing going.  Creativity for its own sake is exciting and beautiful.  Doing what you love doesn’t always make you rich.  That’s what the lottery is for.

*     *     *     *     *

JD Mader is the author of ‘Joe Café’ and a contributing author to Indies Unlimited. You can find more of JD’s writing at his blog www.jdmader.com.


Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

31 thoughts on “I am Sisyphus…”

  1. Mader, that gave me chills. Possibly because you mentioned wheat – and I'm allergic to that. Seriously, well said – for true artists "rich" is a condition of the soul, not an amount in the bank.

  2. I'm with K.S. on the whole wheat thing, but Zyrtec goes a long way. 😉 Another good post that made me think, and made me feel pretty good to be right where I am. Thanks!

  3. Sad, but very true observation on the state of things. People that do not exercise their minds on a daily quest for knowledge are the same ones that seem content to watch 'reality' shows. 😉

    Perhaps the world needs more aspiring authors, the good and the bad. At the very least it might force them to think for themselves. But hey, what do I know… I'm just another aspiring author.


    1. Well put. I remember very distinctly being 16..thought 'On the Road' was the bible. I was stoned and riding my skateboard down the sidewalk one night…click, click, click…and EVERY single house had a flickering TV set inside. And it has only gotten worse.

      Then again, there are six kids playing tag under the window right now. So, who knows. Maybe they'll realize how badly we screwed things up and do something about it. We just moved and the movers literally would not believe we don't own a TV.

  4. Indies Unlimited: Where Dreams Come To Die.

    😉 But really, this all does need to be said. If writing is a financial move, do something else, because the odds are just too long to be worth the effort. Do it because you want to, or because you have to. But don't do it because you think it's going to pay the rent. It's cold out there.

    1. LOL. For real. When I was writing this I thought, 'well, I guess I'm gonna bum everyone out'. But you're right. Part of this Indie gig is being realistic about what it means.

  5. Well said, JD. I haven't read the Twilight books or seen the movie. I have always loved vampires, though.

    Ayn Rand wrote about the masses' inability to distinguish mediocrity from brilliance in "The Fountainhead". Can the average reader not tell a great book from a poor one or have they become too lazy to care? Do they simply want to read a great story without caring about the craft we writers pride ourselves on? You pose important questions.

    I wonder if we wouldn't be happier writing two types of books … what would be viewed as commercial and the opposite. Would the one not draw readers to the other? I bet you could invent some really cool vampires: Punk rock loving, skateboard riding, tattooed philosophers. I bet you could do it. 🙂

    1. Thanks Lois. You raise some good Q's, too. And I probably could do a decent vampire. Maybe someday. 😉

      I think the average reader wants a book that they can put themselves into. I read an interesting comment somewhere about Twilight. To wit, the protagonist is bland enough that she is easy to empathize with…her flatness makes it easy for readers to insert themselves at the heroine. And unfortunately, I think most readers want distraction, not engagement. There is a place for both. And good writers can combine the two.

      What saddens me is that love of language itself is dying. No one can write a decent letter anymore. That used to be a fairly common skill. Readers don't read like writers. They used to.

      1. I read so many writers bragging about how they 'wrote 4,000 words today'. I want to hear someone say 'I wrote one perfect sentence'. Me, I go for the middle ground.

    2. JD,

      I hope the love of language never dies, and we need to not let that happen. Technology has made things so easy for our children that we need to encourage them at every opportunity to read and play.

      I am reading P.D. James new book, "Death Comes to Pemberley" and a very important function is the writing of letters. It was considered not only proper protocol but an art. Perhaps you could start a small revolution here-that we insist our children write a certain amount of letters without spellcheck. I may torture my 17 year old today, he needs to write thank-you notes.

      In a world where Kim Kardashian is revered we need to remain strong and united. 🙂 Stay thirsty my friend. 🙂

  6. Dan, this is helpful, no, not in the generic helpful-to-the-world-at-large way. This is helpful to ME, Today! My editor reviewed the first draft of my book and told me to rewrite it in first person account. I will, as the story needs to be told, so many others can be saved. My concern is not that it will be boring, it is that it will be hated by many, and I wihafts reviled for writing it. By the same token, many will, perhaps, hopefully, be glad someone gave their issues a voice and a vocabulary. But, popular/commercially successful and high-quality are not synonyms, you point out. And that has to be accepted, so we don't play to the gallery.

    1. "wihafts" is what my iPad corrected "will be" to. I tried to Unsubmit it and watched in panic as it refused to. Cannot correct things here, it appears.

      1. I'm so glad I could help, Shoba. Especially as you have helped me in the past (yes, one never knows when they show up at the right time in the right place). 🙂

  7. Well stated. Those I know who are not authors or artists don't understand at all why I give away my books, but I do so for the reasons you stated – I write because I love it, and I publish because I want to share it. Thanks for putting the whole thing into words. 🙂

    1. You're very welcome. Thank you for reading it. And I have given away many books myself. And all my music is online for free. As a good friend of mine recently said, "money ruins everything".

  8. We all come to this realization sooner or later, JD. It's like you say – what you do about that realization is what counts. There is so much hope in one manuscript that it sometimes gives editors goosebumps. But when you sense enjoyment in a manuscript, a feeling that the author has had a great time, and is really satisfied with the fiction, it comes through too. After that, the number of readers, sales, reviews and whathaveyou is just gravy.

    1. That's a really good point, Rosanne. Thanks for stopping by. Desperate fiction is a terrible thing. Unless desperate is the point. 😉

  9. Well, JD, you aren't wrong … but here's what I found out about writing: it's all about the marketing. Ray Kroc built McDonald's into the fast-food titan that it is because he believed in the following principle: Early to bed, early to rise, advertise, advertise, advertise. It works for best seller authors too … good and bad. I believe the biggest problem this bottom-feeding author faces is a lack of marketing support and resources. Successful indie authors over come that by sheer effort and willpower … unfortunately, two more things in which I'm deficient.

    1. We don't all need to be Ray Kroc, though. You just have to find the balance that works for you. None of us are that good at the marketing part. We're learning, though. Together. 😉

Comments are closed.