There’s a mythology about being a writer. It mostly comes from movies and television. Though I’ve never found a novel or a biography portraying the writer’s life as easy, filled with riches and independence, I suppose such written myths exist.
In the past year, I’ve read complaints from new writers about how disappointing their experiences have been. Chief among their complaints are that people haven’t flocked to their stories by the thousands, earning them promised riches. Who promised those riches? What’s the purpose of writing? Why choose to write, to begin with?
Many writers claim that they HAVE to write, that their souls require it. I used to think that way, but no more. People play music, they act, they sing, they dance, they paint, they become stand-up comics, they write, not because their souls require it but in doing so, engaging in those chosen activities, they get something out of it. Perhaps the most basic thing we get out of these activities, and many others, is joy and entertainment. We have fun. But one can also get a sense of accomplishment from out activities, which is very important to people. We want to know that our lives matter.
Money would be nice, especially if you’re needing to pay bills or just buy food. But, if winning the lottery big is a one in a billion chance, so is writing. However, while you only need to buy lottery tickets to get a chance at winning, writing requires thousands of hours of learning, thinking, listening, observing, and yes, thousands and thousands of hours of writing.
Writing is not necessarily easy but it can be fun. It requires hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to learn and grown and most important of all, reveal your inner self. Without that last part, your writing will stumble and fall.
And maybe most important of all, it requires patience. If you’re an impatient person, writing may not be for you. Then again, ALL writers have moments of impatience, generally created by fear of failure.
Fear is the greatest enemy of all writers. What about self-doubt? someone says. Self-doubt is just fear in a different form. You’re fearing that no one will read your work or want you or understand you.
That will happen. Readers and critics will see you as unentertaining, as unworthy, as unwanted. It happens. Get use to it.
To win the lottery, you have to participate. To succeed as a writer requires participation, too. But whereas winning the lottery merely requires buying enough tickets to improve your odds, writing requires unmasking yourself to thousands of strangers who don’t know who you are and might care even less. You’re opening yourself and your work up to public opinion, to public ridicule and scorn, which is the greatest challenge.
For every success story of some unknown writer who finds a publisher and then becomes an instant bestseller (and rich) there are ten million writers who fail. It’s not like a fairly passable garage band who opens for a somewhat more popular garage band, who opens for a very popular garage band that opens for a moderately known band which opens for the main act in Las Vegas. Writers have to work hard and be patient, struggling and fighting for every reader they get, all the while being grateful for each and every reader.
Then why be a writer if you cannot be instantly famous and wealthy?
It’s not the fame or wealth, which may come later. It’s the experience, the accomplishment. Author Ray Bradbury once stated that it takes ten or fifteen years to build up a readership that can support you by buying your many books. It takes some actors many years to be discovered. It’s no less true for writers.
So, what should you do? Keep writing. Write lots of stories and get them published. Vary the stories, vary the genre, make certain that you turn out at least one story a year. At least. Write every story as well as you can. Write different stories with heroes who are different people. Keep writing and dream big, but keep your sights low. Build into it. Try for the mid-range of authors, the ones with lots of stories and a moderate readership.
It’s that readership that will keep you going. And if you make it to the New York Times bestseller list, be grateful and don’t let it go to your head. You may not always be there.
See you out there.