As I’ve said, this Indie gig is wild. Seems like some days, everything’s back-asswards, right down to the way you approach your writing. I spent enough time in traditional publishing to see a pretty decent glimpse of how careers work in Trad. If you manage to break into trad publishing, there’s a subtle (and not-so-subtle) pressure to keep doing what you’re doing. And trad-pub is a business, so it’s not like they tell you that just for kicks. Money in the bank is money that comes from more of the same, but different, and nobody in business ever got anywhere by reinventing the wheel. At volume, whether it’s a publishing house’s entire line of books, or just a single author’s, it pays to Keep Doing What You’re Doing, and for many authors, it’s also a good, sound career choice. If you love telling stories that have strong commonalities between them, you can make a respectable career out of it in trad.
But when you’re going it on your own, there’s nothing pressuring you to do or go in any direction besides your own influence, and that of your readers. You have the freedom to pursue that “book of your heart” that every writer sooner or later meets (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s the outside-your-comfort-zone, genre-bender, darker/lighter than your preferred fare, crazy idea that just won’t leave you alone, but your publisher or agent hates).
What that’s done for me is opened up a whole new world of possibility. When I sit down at my computer every morning, I’m doing so knowing that I can sit down and write anything I want and have it be something I’m working on not just for fun, but for my career and my readers. There’s a good side and a bad side to that, though–because I can do anything, it can be a challenge figuring out any one thing to settle down on. But I have the freedom to work on a contemporary rom-com and follow it up with a magical realism and a chaser of space opera. That may or may not be the freedom to shoot myself in the foot, as rom-com fans may not be interested in magical realism or space opera, but it is my risk to take, and to my benefit if I’m working on something that I’m passionate about.
Now, the true freedom doesn’t come with just being able to indulge my ADD tendencies when it comes to WIPs. It comes accompanied by the discipline to understand that with great freedom comes great responsibility, to coin a phrase. If I’m to keep freedom from turning into laziness, I have to be pushing my limits as a writer when I’m working in all these different genres. I would love to be one of those authors who hits on a method of story that I could riff on ad infinitum, but I haven’t yet keyed into that, and maybe I never will. Right now, I’m pushing myself as a writer, not only with subject matter (I’m turning a few tropes on their ears in my latest WIP), but with craft as well, digging more deeply into scene than I ever have before. I’m plotting, for Pete’s sake.
It’s kind of scary, but at the same time, exhilarating. And a lot harder than it looks, because there’s no mentor pushing me past boundaries I’ve erected for comfort’s sake, no authority figure from whom to seek approval or rebel against. There’s just me, thinking, I can push harder.