Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing is Not a Transactional Endeavor

Buying a latte is a transactional endeavor. If you fork over $3.50, you will receive your foamy, hazelnut- or vanilla-flavored soy and espresso beverage. If it does not meet your standards of quality, you may complain, and in many establishments, you will have your money refunded or your beverage replaced. You pay, you receive. You put in, you get out. No ambiguity.

What does this have to do with writing? Not much. Because many very worthy things in life are not transactional.

I have the dubious honor of sending admissions decisions to the students who apply for the academic program I work for. I really, really hate it. Why? Because of how many people I have to tell "no." How many "denied" stamps I dole out. The most frustrating part of the whole thing is how many applicants view their admission as a transactional endeavor. "Well, I've been paying to go to school for three semesters. I've been taking classes." Yes--but you can put in and still not get out. You can take classes and even work hard and not get good grades. You can apply and not be accepted. It's not transactional.

Even theologically-speaking--last night at Bible study we were chatting about prayer, and expectations--and how we often view prayer in a transactional environment. I pray, I expect, I receive. Except--prayer and God are not transactional. God, I believe, answers prayer, but not in the same way you pay for a latte. Prayer is not the beverage counter at Starbucks. Academic and job applications are not a five and dime.

Neither is writing. I think this is what's so hard to deal with about the writing life--any art. You don't always get out, transactionally-speaking, what you put in. It's not fair. It's full of ambiguity. You could spend years writing brilliant, beautiful novels and never--never once--get a publisher interested. You could smack together something at the right time and create a bestseller. For motivated, goal-oriented people, it's scary. There are not necessarily goal points to meet.

So why do you write, if there's no promise of a shiny outcome? Why not spend that time in something with more definite markers of success? I have my answers--because I can't not write, because even if I can't expect particular outcomes, I sure can hope for them and work for them.

What are yours? Or--maybe I'm wrong. Would you say that creating art is transactional--that if you're not finding success it's because you're not putting the right things in?

PS This is definitely not meant as a rant-y life isn't fair post! Just a general musing :)


Teresa said...

I rarely comment on blogs, but I just loved this post of yours and had to let you know. I needed the reminder that prayer is not transactional.

MrsC said...

Very, very wise. On all fronts. Fairness is a great big mindgame that the 'house' generally wins and not the players.
This is why I like cupcakes. You bake them, decorate them, people take them, eat them and are happy. It is simple, I need this in a life where there isn't a lot going on in the transactional space!

Connie said...

I write for the same reason that you do. God created me to write and I can't not do it. And even though I try to maximize my likelihood of getting published, I know that it might never happen. In the end, I try to take pleasure that I'm doing what I love and was created to do. And I think that pleases God too.

Caroline said...

I completely agree, Rowenna. I've been struggling with the God part lately. After a year and half of searching for jobs, countless interviews and even more rejections, it is so hard keeping the faith. I'm so unsure right now--does He want me to be reunited with my hubby? I would think yes, but beyond that does He want us back in our home town?
It's hard keeping the faith after so long, especially after much of my life has been transactional. I worked hard and got good grades. I got accepted to the school I wanted. I've generally gotten the job that I applied for. It's been a completely different situation this time around. But I keep on trucking...or is it trudging?

Fallen Timbers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fallen Timbers said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Rowenna.
In this current climate however, I think you could spend a lifetime writing the most beautiful book and the way mainstream publishing reacts, you may not get any kind of look-in.

There is however another way. The e-book industry is flying, there are millions of readers who want a chance to choose titles for themselves rather than having publishers select for them.

I have found some compelling novels, some lighthearted novels, some enthralling novels, but all very good works that I might never have read if the writer hadn't made the effort to 'bake, decorate and put that cupcake out there'. Transactional? Definitely. Heartwarming and satisfying? Yes.

Hema P. said...

You are so right, Rowenna! Writing, among other forms of art, is definitely not transactional. When I think about it, in addition to an inner peace, a sense of balance, writing gives me, this ambiguity about it all makes it extra attractive -- like the shiny fruit that is just out of reach... :)

Rowenna said...

Teresa--I'm so glad that resonated with you--hoping your walk is growing closer :)

MrsC--yes! You're right, you know--I think that's why I love feeding people :)

Connie--you are so correct--and your Nightingale post was brilliant :)

Caroline--I hope you find some clarity in your trudging--because it sounds like every element of your life lately has been full of trials! I know life hasn't handed you anything you and God can't handle :)


Mesmered--you're very right, and I didn't even touch alternates. At the same time--still not, in my opinion, as blatantly transactional as when I buy a latte. I'm sure there are brilliant self-pubbed books that don't get the attention that others do--in the end, we do it for love :) And love the readers who pick our cupcakes!

Hema--awesome points--that inner peace is worth more than any amount of money, isn't it?