What Do You Want?

What do you want? 

In the old television series Babylon 5, the Shadows, villains working behind the scenes, wanted to cause chaos throughout the galaxy.  They sent an emissary Mr. Morden to determine which occupants of the space station they could use for their own ends. Morden began with the question, “What do you want?”

A few told Morden to go away. Some had desires the Shadows had no interest in fulfilling. Londo uttered a wish the Shadows helped him achieve that eventually led to massive numbers of death. Vir, in contrast, sensed the evil behind Morden’s question and answered “I’d like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave, like this [smiles and waves his fingers at Morden]. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?”

What do you want? 

The reason that simple question resonates is the truth that everyone’s priorities are different. Whether it’s power, money, peace, or simply to be left alone, people desire different things – what people want is the driving force behind characterization. Writers are the same of course. While we may want J.K. Rowling’s success, do we want the years of unemployment, hardship, and hard work that she powered through before she achieved her breakthrough?

Traditional publishing is difficult, requiring authors to have multiple skill sets: writing, editing, and enough networking and self-promotion to attract agents and publishers. After a book’s release, the publisher usually requires the author to promote their books, so authors may need to travel and engage with strangers. Self-publishing might get our books out in the world faster but it requires an even wider range of skills because a writer without an agent or publisher must perform all of the roles that those professionals traditionally do on the writer’s behalf.

Some people want to be writers because they love to write. But do they want to jump through all the hoops needed to land their books in stores or to sell enough copies to earn the royalties needed to pay the electric bill? I know some authors who love to write and who produce extraordinary books, but when they are sitting at their tables selling books, it’s obvious they’d rather be anywhere else. As a raging introvert, this actually endears them to me, but it highlights that to have a successful writing career, authors do what they must, not always what they want.

What do you want? 

Sometimes we miss the obvious. Sometimes the fun is in the journey, not the arrival. Not all writers need or want a career.  Their other career may be more important to them or their family commitments may require too much time for them to hit the road marketing a book. Maybe they just want to write as a hobby and don’t want to go through the pain and suffering of writing multiple stories that get rejected. Maybe writing is a safety valve for the stress in other areas of their life and they don’t want the added pressure of selling their books. We all have a limited time on this world and our priorities are our own.

I thought a lot before I wrote this post, because my theme is so obvious. Yet, I am continually surprised by the number of people who care that others will think badly of them if they don’t jump through a particular hoop. I think this disconnect arises, not because people fail to realize that it’s fine to want what they want but because many of us care deeply about having the good opinion of people we like. It’s difficult to say, “I respect you, but your choices are not mine.”

What do you want? 


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