Writing can seem a grind at times. Whether a short short or a magnus opus, at some point you are bound to think: will this damn thing ever be finished? For every time the words seem to flow there are two others when is seems you are grinding it out one rotten word or phrase at a time. Meanwhile, your internal editor is constantly bleating that you are writing is pedestrian, cliched or flabby or, at the very least, not enough.
And if that nagging voice ever does shut up, you can always count on a writing friend to exhort you to set goals, to write more and more often, to learn this structure or that method of characterization or to develop better story hooks.
As an old pal of mine once remarked: goals are for hockey players. Better yet, from a new pal who has sold over 150 stories and two novels before his 27th birthday: "I try to write things that entertain me and hope to find an editor who is similarly entertained." So far, so good, I would say. Of course, he is living a sort of student life -- not quite starving in a garret, but not middle-class yet. Still, he sells as many stories in two years as I have in my whole damn career.
Ah, talent! Me, I pretty much have to make do with the other two components of a successful writing life -- determination and luck.
Have I discouraged you from writing yet? Because that was pretty much my goal. I really don't need the competition.
Many of you might ask why -- if it's so hard and the rewards so limited, why do so many people want to be writers? Well, of course, we all want to be the next J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, or perhaps the best paid writer of them all, James Patterson. Surely we think, my writing is as good as theirs. If I just work hard and have a little luck -- it could be me! Just like every guy who plays semi-pro ball thinks he might make it to the big leagues.
Good luck with that. The reality is, if you are reasonably talented, quite determined and hard working and have a smidgen of luck (most of which you make for your self), you can make a living of sorts. Some will actually do quite well.
Which is sort of true for lawyers and pipe-fitters, too. Except a person with a law degree or a journeyman's certificate is seldom faced with the possibility they will suddenly make no money at all -- which can happen to a formerly successful writer at any given moment.
Most writers and other artists, too, wind up like that semi-pro ball player, making a little cash from time to time, just enough to keep trying to hit the change-up (sorry for all the baseball metaphors--I've been watching the Blue Jays lose). Like rats who need only an occasional reward to keep playing the game, we live for those sales or that fan we meet who actually reads our work and wants to know when the next book is coming out. If we're lucky, we make enough to quit the day job (or go part-time) and keep trying to write that one story that everyone will like and buy (well, until it gets pirated and you are back in the dumpster again).
Because that's where the joy lies -- in the doing. All the things I've mentioned in passing while you thought I was complaining are why I keep doing it:
- when the words seem to flow;
- when the nagging voice shuts up and lets you wallow in the language;
- when you have writing friends who don't get bored when you talk about writing;
- when you write things that entertain you and find someone who is similarly entertained;
- when somebody pays you for your work;
- when you make a living or even a part living from doing something you clearly do for love (why else would you do something that consists of hard work, little reward and constant rejection);
- when someone comes up and actually gushes over your work.
But most of all, it the joy of writing one good sentence -- one that makes you stop and say (maybe to yourself or to your ever-supportive partner): Wow, I did that.
So that's my little self-indulgent cathartic rant for the day. I'm one of those writers who is always about to quit, but despite that I have written six stories so far this year. And it is only the joy of writing (or the joy of writing about writing) that makes me un-quit and tackle that next story.
Which I will do tomorrow.