Every once in a while I get a letter that goes something like this: “I’m thinking of writing a book. When can I expect to see it in the bookstore?”
I don’t like to admit this, but when I began to write and fall in love with my own words I had stars in my eyes. I’d seen some stunning successes among the authors I was reading, so why not? And even now, every year there’s an author who bursts upon the scene with a knockout first book and is propelled into overnight success. It can happen. Right?
Sure. But it won’t. Okay, it will for 0.01% of the aspiring authors out there. In fact, only a few very fortunate writers will eke out a living publishing novels. The reality takes a while to dawn and even longer to accept. So then, trying like hell to prove this wrong, we scramble to adopt marketing strategies, chase popular trends, fashion our work to fit the slot, change genres to become more desirable, and read and read and read and measure everything against ourselves and our own work. We take enormous pleasure in the struggles of other writers who ultimately crack the code.
The one piece of advice that is most logical is also the hardest to make peace with: the notion that the only thing the writer can control is the writing—and that’s temporary at best. Editors have an important function, after all, and one of them is helping you see where you went wrong. And yet there is something about finally identifying why you do it that is so much more productive than what you’re doing it for. There’s something just plain logical about knowing what the true motivation is rather than making a list of how you’ll spend all your money and what antics you’ll use to dodge, or take advantage of, celebrity status.
Making up a story—for me, an entertaining escape filled with humanity and romance—is at the core of everything. And it’s hard—so hard. Reading it over and over, researching, making changes, asking for advice, thinking till your brain hurts... Because it’s absolutely true: this is the place where I feel most powerful, most indomitable, and most satisfied when it works. This is the peace—when you know in your gut that this is fun, that you like doing it, that even if no one ever paid you, you’d probably do it anyway. And I also like that it’s hard! If it wasn’t very hard, what would I be accomplishing? If it wasn’t hard, anyone could do it. I might be twisted, but I never wanted to be paid to nap.
My husband is a commercial pilot and I’m a writer and there have been times—too many to count—that we had to take other jobs to keep the wolf from the door. It was during those times that we talked a lot about what a great privilege it is to have the luxury of doing work we love. More than a privilege, an honor.
I write because it’s fun. To keep that in perspective, some people box for fun, getting their faces bashed in, bleeding and getting knocked out. Writing stories feels good, it feels right, it’s fulfilling.
And yes, it feels even better to get paid for it. But I’d probably do it anyway.