The Third Ingredient

Sometimes the two most crucial ingredients for a successful writing career are also what can most distract a writer from actually having that career. First, every writer must love to write; second, every writer must want to get paid for that writing. In other words, you want to get paid for what you love to do. Fabulous. It should be no other way. And yet it is very easy to forget that we are talking here about a tool and an outcome. Writing, the discipline of turning thoughts into words, is merely a tool of expression – like dance or song or cooking. Getting paid is the desirable result of employing that tool. But neither of these ingredients contains within them something worth sharing. That is, you cannot sit down to write simply because you love to write and want and need to get paid for it. We must sit down to write because we have something valuable we would like to share.

It is easy to forget this third ingredient because in truth it has nothing to do with the other two. When my work is moved by the desire to share something valuable, I enter a place removed from my love of writing and my desire to see that work published. For that time, there is only that valuable idea and my continuous attention upon it, and the valuable idea becomes a beacon by which I am guided through the darkness of discovery.

But when I forget this third ingredient, when I write simply because I love to write and want and indeed need to get paid for that writing, I am instantly lost. Now the night’s horizon is either lit by a thousand lights, or shut in stony blackness. I am disoriented not just by my surroundings, but by the memory of how friendly this very ocean had once seemed. I have mistaken myself for a writer and an author, for the tool and the outcome, when all along I was only that third ingredient – and without it, without me, I am nowhere.

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