Why be a writer?

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I was talking to an aspiring writer last night. This woman has her book written, but doesn’t want to make the next step. She was asking me for advice. I told her to get a whip and flog herself until she’s ready to black out. If she can do that, then she’s ready for the next step.

Alright, I told her, it may not be that bad, but it makes the point. You have to be ready to deal with the downside. You are not going to put a book out there and go marching down the red carpet. It might happen, but don’t quit your day job thinking it will. I told her she will experience rejection and disappointment and if that bothers her, she’ll have a hard time of it. I’m reminded of the guy that said he became an overnight success after eight years of hard work.

Try these numbers on for size:

  • Approximately 150,000 novels are printed in the U.S. every year. That’s a lot of competition;

  • The average book sells fewer than 250 copies;

  • 98% of all books ever written have sold fewer than 1000 copies.

I read a blog post by a woman who said she contacted 1800 agents before she got one. That is the epitome of persistence.

My most recent novel is my fourth book and I have yet to even break even on any of them.

All of this points out the grim reality of writing – it is highly unlikely you will make a living doing it. There are people that do (God bless them!), but most of us will not. So, why do it? And, the answer to that is simple:

Because its fun! I love doing it!

Besides, it’s cheaper than buying a bass boat.

So, if you are doing it because you have visions of multimillion dollar contracts and flying first class, stop while you’re ahead. But, if you are having fun – go for it.

But, there is the next level – you can’t stop yourself. I remember reading an article written by the great science fiction author, Robert Heinlein. He told the story of how he got into writing because he was kicked out of the Navy (medical) and had to support his family. He had enough success as an author to pay off the bills and was ready to move on. He told of how he was talking to a neighbor about this and the neighbor told him he wouldn’t quit writing because he now had the bug. He wrote because he had to. And, we know how that turned out.

This is something I can personally attest to. On this last novel, That Which Maddens and Torments, I was obsessed. I would wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and couldn’t get back to sleep until I got up and wrote it out. I came up with the idea for an entire chapter while at a New Year’s Eve party. I would start writing and would write all day, even skipping meals. And, you know what? I loved it! I absolutely loved it!

Now, I’m working on my next novel, Purple Legion, and it’s starting all over again and there is nothing I can do to stop myself. And, I’m doing nothing to prevent it. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

And, that is why you write – because you have to.

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