Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Writers, for the most part, don't make a lot of money. Some land big contracts and are able to support their families quite nicely, some make a decent amount and supplement their day jobs, but for the rank and file, royalty checks are more along the lines of a sack or two of groceries. It's not guaranteed income. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme. Writing is a lot of hard work, dedication, perfecting the craft, and then trying to meet the right people in the right place at the right time to make all the magic happen. It's not easy, and at times, it's flat-out discouraging.

So why do it?

Each author has to answer that question for himself. Everyone has a driving force that propels them in the directions they go, and maybe they can explain it and maybe they can't. They just know that they need to do what they're doing. They don't feel right if they don't. Some people paint, some sing, some dance, and some write. It's what makes us feel most like us.

I would love to make a scadillion dollars with my writing. My career has really taken off in the last two years, but I'm not ready to quit my day job and buy a mansion. You definitely won't find me on a list of the wealthiest LDS authors in existence. But you know what - that's not why I do what I do.

Don't get me wrong - if I were to land a huge royalty check, I would not rip it up. Money is a pretty awesome thing, and I wouldn't mind being on the receiving end. But I've learned over the ten years I've been a published author that there are paychecks that don't come in the mail in a flat envelope. I love getting fan e-mails. I love hearing from a reader that they understand a concept of the gospel better because of the way I portrayed it in my book. I received an e-mail not too long ago from a reader whose daughter had decided to leave the Church, and because she had recently read Hang 'Em High, she had some ideas of what to say to her daughter, and was able to preserve the relationship. Those are major paychecks, let me tell you.

My biggest one ... well, let me tell you a story, because that's what I do.

I'm a descendant of the Hole in the Rock pioneers who settled the southeast corner of the state of Utah, and I'm fiercely proud of my heritage. I was blessed to have access to some family history resources, and I used them to write my novel Season of Sacrifice. In many instances, I was able to use actual wording from those family history records as I conveyed the true story of my great-great-grandparents, Benjamin and Sarah Perkins. It was a hugely uplifting spiritual experience for me as I felt them guiding me in what to say next.

My dad, their great-grandson, had written a poem about the Hole in the Rock, and I placed that in the front of the book. In all ways, I was so proud of what I had accomplished. Is it the best book I've ever written? No, because I've learned a lot since then. But I feel that it's the book I was born to write, that it's the reason I was created to be an author.

I made the decision to self-publish the book so I could produce it exactly the way I wanted. On Friday, March 14th of 2008, I took this picture:

This is my dad holding the first copy out of the box right after I picked it up from the printer. He's seeing the story of his ancestors as written by his daughter, and he is seeing his own work in print. I can't even tell you how it felt to show him that book. I had published books before that, and I have published books after that, and yet no book release before or since could compare to how I felt in that moment. That was hitting the lottery for me. That was my biggest paycheck ever.

My dad then spent the next two years of his life making sure that every cousin, aunt, uncle, and stranger on the street had a copy of this book. I couldn't have asked for a better PR manager.

Two years after this picture was taken, my father passed away.

You have no idea how glad and grateful I am that I was able to place that book in his hands when I did, so he would have time to enjoy it before he got sick. He's the one person I most wanted to please with this publication, and I did it. I can say, "I made my dad proud."

So when you ask me what I do what I do, I'll probably give you a kind of rambling answer, because it's hard to explain and it's hard to define. I just know that moments like the ones I shared with my dad are priceless. And so I'll keep doing what I do. I might never make much money doing it. I'll take it if it comes, but for me, though, that's not the main objective. I can't buy the way I felt putting that book in my dad's hands.

Find your reason for doing what you do. And you'll keep doing it. And you'll be happy.


Daron D. Fraley said...

Amen, sister.

Cheri Chesley said...

This is too awesome. I feel for you particularly because of what you were able to do for your dad. Mine passed when I was 7, so it was well before I had my "I'm going to be a writer" epiphany. Though personal revelation has recently made it clear he is proud of me. That means a lot.

Anna Maria Junus said...

Sometimes I wish I could be normal and be happy with an ordinary job.

Nice story about your father.

Jennie said...

Tristi, you've done an excellent job explaining what drives writers to write. Some say it's the money, some say it's ego, but it's something harder to explain. There's no dollar amount that can be placed on some of the letters I've received telling me how my books impacted the readers' lives or a choice experience I had one day in the temple when a young woman in tears told me how a couple of my books turned her life around. The money has made a real difference in my life, it's nice to be recognized, I'm humbled by the chance to impact the ives of others, but when it comes to writing I do it because it's part of me just like some people sing because they can't not sing.

Tapper said...

I'm so glad you do what you do! The hours stink, the pay stinks worse, but You are doing something special and distinct and lasting. That's priceless.

Randy said...

Great post. I'm hoping to get published before my father passes away. He's been my biggest supporter all these years. I can see how that would be one of the best "paychecks" I could get from writing.

Leslie said...

I loved this post and the story about your father. I can only imagine how proud he must have been of you and your work and to share that with him is awesome! I've had a hard time explaining to others why I want to write as well. It's so much more than money or your name on a book. And for me, I know it will take lots and lots and lots of work to get to the point of being published. But I still want to write anyway.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...