So What’s Good About Being a Writer?

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We’ve been focused a lot in recent days on the challenges inherent in a writing career.  Catie, with her usual eloquence and wit and style, has given us a sense of what it feels like to struggle with a book that’s more than half done; to confront that crucial scene that’s screaming to be written but isn’t quite ready to emerge.  I’ve been fighting with the opening pages of my own project, trying to overcome the inertia of the blank screen.  Misty has been enjoying the brilliant reviews her work has received, but she’s also dealing with the occasional bad review and the emotional cost even one bad critique can exact from a new writer.  And two days ago Faith wrote a wonderful post about the physical toll of fighting one’s way through a book.

The response to these posts has been great, and we’re glad to hear from people who tell us that they appreciate our honesty.  Professionals struggle with this stuff every day, and that can be a comforting thought for those who haven’t yet made that first sale, but who are already fighting the good fight.

But there’s got to be more, right?  We keep on posting all this stuff about how hard it is to write, but then we say, “But I love it.  I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”  Okay.  Why?  If the brochures all read, “Be a Writer!  Put Your Butt in the Chair!” we probably wouldn’t have too many writers out there.  So I guess the point of today’s post is (with apologies to Johnny Mercer) to accentuate the positive.

Or, put another way, what do I love about being a writer?

Well, there’s the obvious superficial stuff.  It’s very cool to see a book I’ve written in print.  I really never get tired of that.  And, yes, I complain about the money. (Because I don’t make all that much.  And I’m one of the fortunate ones; with a few high-profile exceptions, this is not a great way to get rich.)  But despite my complaints, it is pretty cool to get paid for telling stories.  I love being my own boss and working at home; I love having the time and flexibility to do stuff for and with my family.  I enjoy hearing from people who have read my books, and not only because it feels good to have someone say, “Hey, I loved that story,” or “Wow, I really related to that character.”  I write because I have to, because I am emotionally committed to my stories, my worlds, my characters.  And when someone else reads my work and taps into those emotions, it’s incredibly affirming.

But as I say, those are the superficial things — even that last one.  The deeper joy I derive from this crazy, frustrating, draining profession, is rooted in the very act of writing.  My job, every day, is to create; to tap into my imagination and draw from it something coherent and compelling and satisfying, not only to me, but also to my readers.  A couple of weeks ago I posted in this space about creative pursuits outside of writing.  I mentioned that I play music and have become a devoted photographer.  Lots of people do things of that sort as hobbies, just as I do.  They paint or sculpt or take pictures or write music.  Many people write fiction as a hobby.  Creating any type of art is incredibly satisfying, be it as catharsis or simply as a way of making something that we can then point to and say, “That’s mine, completely.  No one else will ever create something that looks or sounds or reads exactly like it.  It is uniquely and utterly my own.”  I feel this way about my photography, and, to be quite honest, if I thought I could make a living with my camera, I might try to make a go of it.

But I’m fortunate in that I already get from my job that satisfaction of creating something totally original.  And yet even that doesn’t quite explain what I love about writing.  I’m actually finding as I write this post, that the question is more difficult to answer than I’d expected.

You often hear writers say, “I have to write.  If I didn’t I’d go nuts.”  I’ve said it and written it myself many times.  There are people in my head clamoring to have their stories told.  There are worlds in my brain waiting to be explored and storylines begging to be used.   And it’s not just that I can’t ignore them (though I can’t); it’s that I don’t want to.  Those people clamoring for attention fascinate me.  I desperately want to know them.  Those worlds beckon to me.  Just as I want to visit Scotland and Turkey, just as I want to hike in Glacier National Park and see the Badlands of South Dakota, I want to discover these places in my imagination.  There are wonders there.  I know it.  I want to learn their histories and their customs.

And that, I think, brings me at last to the crux of all this:  the reason I love to write.  The act of creation is, for me, an act of discovery.  Yes, on some level I make up everything in my books.  But that’s not how it feels.  It feels like I’m meeting new people, traveling to new places, and coming back with wondrous stories that I then get to share with the people in this world.   The best thing someone can tell me about my books is that they were transported by them, carried off to a land that captivated them.  It’s not ego that makes this so special for me (at least not totally).  It’s that this is precisely what the books do for me.  And if I convey that to my readers so well that they can share in the experience, then I’ve succeeded as a storyteller.

Not to fall into cliché at the end of all this, but writing is an adventure.  As authors, we live our books, our stories.  And though you might never guess that sitting in front of a computer screen for hours at a time could be exciting, it is.  For me, it’s the most thrilling job I could imagine.

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7 comments to So What’s Good About Being a Writer?

  • When I was a little girl, I was certain that the elves were out in the woods near my house, and if I asked nicely, waited long enough or happened to be in the woods at just the right time, they’d reveal themselves and take me to their glittering kingdom of magic and wonder. I knew, with a child’s unswerving devotion, that there was magic under the surface of my ordinary life, if I looked hard enough.

    Writing became my way of digging for the magic. It’s more effective than waiting around on those bloody elves, and it’s less likely to alarm the neighbors. :D

  • Yeah!
    David you said it just right.
    Thank you!

    sigh….
    I love my job.
    Faith

  • Thanks for the comments, guys. Seems a bit quiet around here today. I can almost hear the crickets. Hope I didn’t put people off with the post.

  • Rex

    Nope, not at all put off. Great post as always.

  • Maybe it’s just that all writers have that knowledge that there’s another layer to our world out there somewhere? I spent my childhood utterly sure that there was something wonderful, special, magical about myself. I was sure that if I just tried hard enough I’d be able to find it. Then I started growing older and I began to worry that there was nothing special about me at all. Even my website is called Waiting For Fairies — because two decades later, I’m still waiting for them to come pick me up and take me along for the ride. You don’t know how good it is to know that I’m not the only one.

  • *beams* Yeah, you’re right, David, we’ve been talking about the AUGH more than the love.

    For me–aside from writing to find out what *happens*, because that’s why I write, that’s what I want to know, that’s the fun of it for me–there are also the occasional transcendent moments when I have gotten it right.

    It doesn’t happen very often, a bit that I’m utterly, totally, completely happy with. I’m usually satisfied, I’m usually pleased, but rarely am I just…well…*transcendent*. There’s a bit in THE QUEEN’S BASTARD,my May release, which is transcendent to me. The entire book, in many ways, leads up to a paragraph of about 65 words, and for that little tiny percentage of the book…it’s perfect. It does everything I want it to. It takes my breath away, and hell, I wrote it. I re-read it last night, having gotten author copies of the book, and it’s…everything I wanted it to be. Right there, bound up between pretty covers, with my name at the top of every page, is this tiny bit of I got it right.

    With TQB, I have a million words in print. There’s that paragraph, and one other sentence in another book that I love beyond reason. It’s maybe a total of a hundred words, out of a million.

    And it’s enough. A hundred words out of a million where I got it *right*: that’s what’s great about being a writer.

    -Catie

  • Thanks for the comments, Rex and Melissa. Rex, I appreciate the kind words. Melissa, I think you’ve hit on something else that makes writing so special. Often our lives fit into routines, patterns, easy-to-describe categories that make them seem mundane. But our imaginations are completely original. That’s where each of us can discover what makes us special. Thanks for the comment.

    And Catie, I know just what you mean. There are a couple of moments in this book of mine that I’ve yet to sell where I think I’ve just nailed it. They shine! I can re-read them 20 times and never get sick of them. But as writers we’re our own harshest critiques. I’d bet every dollar I have that your readers think you got it “right” on more than 100 words out of those million.