Terrible Tips Tuesday: Why Do You Write?
If you ever get the chance to have someone interview you for publishing a book, you’ll probably get at least one person asking “Why do you write?” That question is also a favorite ice breaker in critique groups and so forth.
Most people will give some BS answer about how much they love to write. They’ll get all schmaltzy and sappy about how much they love the craft of writing and creating something and so forth. Maybe they’ll say they read X book by Author X in 19XX (or 200X if they’re younger) and that prompted them to want to write books.
The more misguided people will say they want to make money. We’ll get back to that later.
Anyway, the sappy answers always strike me as pure horse plop. Maybe I’m just a cold, insensitive person that way. The easy and true answer for me could be summarized like this: Why do I write? Because I have zero aptitude at anything else.
By that I mean I showed absolutely no ability in music, painting, drawing, sculpture, sports, carpentry, anything mechanical, crossword puzzles, Suduku, or Rubik’s cube. At least writing I got good grades and praise from my teachers in school. (Less so the people who actually matter–agents and publishers.) So it was either writing or something that requires no brains or talent like stamp collecting. Or doing drugs, but I grew up out in the country and didn’t know where to find a dealer.
Of course there are always misguided people who will keep doing something even if they suck at it–such people are featured in the first shows of American Idol each season. For most of us who aren’t completely delusional, if we stink at something we’ll look for something we’re better at. I’m sure if Michael Phelps lost every swim meet or Michelle Kwan lost every figure skating competition when they were younger they probably would have stopped long before winning Olympic medals. I mean most of us aren’t that masochistic that we want to get pasted at something time and time again.
Though that is a problem with writing, at least if you want to get published. You’ll get turned down time and time again. It’s happened even to successful authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling. And at some point you’ll probably think to yourself, Maybe I should find something else to do.
Now you probably think I’m going to give you the standard “Win One for the Gipper” speech here and say “Keep plugging away because you might make it!” routine. F**k that. If you’re having no success at writing and you have something else you can do–go do that! Even if that something is being a world-class diaper changer it’s better than getting your butt kicked with another form rejection. Psychologically speaking it’s better to do something that makes you feel positive about yourself and your abilities than something that will have an adverse effect.
B-b-b-but look at Stephen King and JK Rowling. They got rejected dozens or hundreds of times and now they’re zillionaires! Yeah and they got LUCKY! So do lottery winners. But for every one who gets lucky and hits the jackpot there’s 30 million who lost. (Seriously, read the odds of winning for any lottery drawing. That’s about your same odds of being published and being as successful as King, Rowling, Grisham, etc.) There’s a slightly better chance you might be able to survive on the midlist with a few fans and parlay that into a teaching gig or something. But even that you’re looking at 1:10,000 (or more) odds. You probably have about as good of a chance of being struck by lightning.
This is why anyone who says they’re writing for money is full of crap. There’s only three ways to be guaranteed to make money writing a book:
- You’re a celebrity.
- You’ve been involved in an infamous scandal.
- A combination of #1 & #2.
Otherwise you might as well just spend your time scratching lottery tickets.
Now you might be thinking, “Hey, why are you saying I shouldn’t write? You’re writing. You’re doing it right now!” Yeah, but you’re probably only one of two people (besides me) who will actually read this. If you are, good for you! Keep reading!
This gets back to the beginning. Here’s the conversation I’ve had often enough after a batch of rejections:
ME: I should do something else.
ME: Like what?
So if I want to give the real reason I write, it isn’t because I love it or because someone inspired me to do it. That might have been the reason 20 years ago, but it’s not the reason I keep doing it. The real reason is that I can’t find anything better to fill the hours. If I got drunk and did a great rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin'” and won a karaoke contest, I’d probably be doing that. Because let’s face it, writing for nobody and making almost no money at it gets annoying and depressing after a while. If you can fill the hours and be happy at it, then you might as well do that instead.
Although I am usually perfectly happy sitting around the library or Starbucks or Panera Bread writing. It’s just after the writing part is done that the questioning begins. Because after the rejections begin it’s hard to go on fooling yourself.
Have I thoroughly depressed you now? Have I shattered your dreams and illusions? Then my work here is done.
Tune in Thursday (not that you will) for Read to Me Thursday: Page to Screen.