July 14, 2019
What possesses us to take up a pen or a keyboard to put words on paper or screen? Why do we do it? I’ve been asked that question a time or two by well-intentioned friends or acquaintances and always felt they found my answer (“Because I enjoy writing.”) was somewhat less than satisfactory. Others, who perhaps did not know me as well, on hearing that I was writing a novel, would immediately ask, “Who’s your publisher?” as if publication could be the only reason to spend one’s time writing instead of working at a regular job or profession. I found this distressing.
And so, feeling coerced to seek legitimacy with those around me, I polished up a manuscript and self-published it (being unwilling to send my work to agents or small presses after poor experiences on both counts). Now I mostly don’t say much if folks learn that I’m a writer. And I am a writer. I have no qualms about calling myself that, self-published or not. I’ve written creatively on and off for the last thirty plus years and I have put pen to paper every day for the last three years since I found the freedom to write without interference from other activities (like a regular job).
If you think you want to write because you believe it will lead you to riches or celebrity, you might want to think again. Like realtors, insurance salespeople and young lawyers, only a small percentage of those who pursue a writing career manage to make any kind of living at it, and the number of writers who achieve fame and fortune is miniscule by comparison.
Writing to please a publisher, editor, agent, generous arts council or loved one will not, I submit, result in your best work – which is not to say that the result won’t be good. It simply may not be as good as it could be if you wrote to please yourself.
So write because it makes you happy to do so. I dislike hearing complaints from angst-ridden writers who moan and tear their hair over agonizing re-writes, abandoned manuscripts or writer’s block. Writing is the best job in the world. Like anything else, if you find it excessively painful or distressing, you ought to look for other ways to spend your time.
I have a website, a blog, I’m on Facebook and I self-publish because apparently these things suggest legitimacy. But I write because I love to write and for no other reason.