There was a time, not all that long ago, when I asked myself: Do I want to write, or do I just want to tell people I’m a writer?
I get the impression a good number of the folks I meet who have proclaimed ambitions about being a writer have not asked themselves this question. They say, “I want to be a writer” (or, better yet, “I have this thing I’m writing”), but when it comes to actually finishing and putting work out there, something keeps getting in the way. They don’t finish projects; they get sidetracked; they get discouraged; they get caught up more in talking about the thing than doing the thing.
It sounds like the sociology of it all, the going-to-other-people-and-saying-“Hey,-I’m-a-writer”, is what really turns them on. Not the act — and for some people, a fundamentally boring one — of putting your butt in a chair by yourself and pounding some keys for maybe hours on end, every day. It’s lonely work, and most writers have to settle for the occasional fan letter or face-to-face meeting at a convention or author’s function to get to talk to another human being about their work. And then there’s the pitifully little money to be made by anyone (except the lawyers), the condescension from know-it-all fans or other would-be writers, the funny looks from relatives, the giggles from people who … you get the idea. The business of being a writer is unglamorous in more ways than I can count.
Small wonder why people try to inject some hint of true romance into it. It’s only human nature to do that sort of thing. I doubt there’s any occupation (artistic or otherwise) that doesn’t benefit from having a little of the fairy dust of romance sprinkled over the top. With writing, though, the romance has to be something you feel in the doing of it, or it won’t be there at all. If you’re not already in love with the idea of writing, so much so that you can’t wait to hustle on back home and begin typing, few things in this world short of a fat paycheck are going to be fuel enough to get their engines to turn over. (And if you’re getting into this to be rich, you are absolutely doing this for the wrong reasons.)
Are people fascinated with the whole social dance of “being a writer” because they don’t know how rarefied the rewards are? The glamorous few exceptions to the rule, the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings, are not models to emulate. They’re exceptions, rarer than shooting stars in a darkened room. The only true model you have to emulate is yourself — your own passion and your own drive. That means knowing what you actually want, which is something few enough people ever learn in this life.