Mincemeat: on writing
  Why do you want to be a writer?

Here are a few reasons Iíve heard people cite. For a little test, pick your primary reason and then read on. I have the presumption of asserting that only one of these is a really good one. Forgive the impertinence. My opinion is based on my slim experience as well as the concurrence of some veteran book writers.

A. "I want to work in my pajamas."
B. "It strikes me as a great way to make oodles of money."
C. "I like the flexible hours, and I can work from home and still be a parent."
D. "I think Iím pretty good at it."
E. "I have stories in my head that I have to write down."
F. "Iíve always liked the idea of being a published author."
G. "Nothing would make me happier than to see my book in a bookstore."
H. "Iíve always liked reading, and it seems like a fun hobby."
I. "I have important things I want to teach people."

A. While this part of book writing isnít too shabby (I happen to be in my pajamas at this very moment, and itís 11 am), itís not a good primary reason for wanting to be a writer. There are other professions you can do from home that have better odds of being a career.

B. Ha. Seriously, people have told me this. For more info on why this isnít true, see Writing and Riches.

C. I suppose the hours are flexible, but be warned that writing can take over your life. Itís a big commitment with no guarantee of financial gain. Again, there are other industries that allow you to work part time from home and actually make money. And, when youíve put in your four or so hours, you can turn your brain off and focus on the family, whereas the book never leaves you in peace.

D. Hereís a little tale. I had the opportunity to dine with a few writers after a conference recently, one of whom was the lovely Jean Craighead George. One of the fantastic conference organizers said, "I have a question you were probably never asked before. In your early years, did you consider yourself a gifted writer?" We all paused, thinking, having indeed never been asked this question before. Almost at once, three of us said, "No." We all concurred that we never thought of ourselves as talented writers, many of us never having any encouragement in that area in school. "So why did you become writers?" Again, we all agreed—we had stories burning inside us that we had to put down. Images, words, characters, boiling in our brains that wouldnít leave us in peace until weíd typed or written them into existence. Which brings us to the next item:

E. Eureka! This is it, baby. Most people have an urgent need to use the creative side of their brain, and for us poor sods, it manifests itself in stories. Without question, this is the number 1 reason I find from lifelong writers, and in my opinion, the only really valid one for inflicting this mania on yourself and your family.

F. Yikes. Not a good idea. I also like the idea of being a movie star sometimes, but Iím not committed to living in LA, dragging myself through the horrid competition, being willing to wear and say anything on screen, and facing that endless rejection. Clearly, Iím not suited to being an actor. Writing takes a lot out of you. If you donít have to do it, then you probably shouldnít.

G. In one of my writing classes in college, the professor asked us, if we were stranded on a desert island, which two books would we want with us? I canít remember what I said for my first, but for the second, I chose an empty notebook so that I could write my own books. Another student said, "Why on earth would you want to write a book on a desert island?" And I thought, What on earth are you doing in this class? If your only reason for being a writer is having readers and getting published, I would question your choice. There is undoubtedly a thrill at first seeing your baby bound and on a shelf, but if this is your main goal, the heartache will kill you. There are wagonloads of rejections that will probably come first. To be a writer, you should be prepared to be satisfied with telling your stories and not depend on publication for satisfaction.

H. For a response to this, Iíll quote Clare Dunkle from her website:
"Writing is a dangerous hobby. It steals large stretches of time away from those you love. I never even considered writing until I had no other pressing obligations, and I have to watch myself now to make sure that my family and other duties arenít getting neglected."

I. There are venues for this—non-fiction, self-help. I donít know much about those. But I know that in fiction of any genre, an agenda will kill your story, burden your characters into flatness, and disengage your readers. This is as true for childrenís picture books as it is for adult literary fiction.

Howíd you do? I hope you won't feel discouraged if you didnít chose the one that I thought was the right answer. If you still have a burning desire to be a writer, for any reason, I hope youíll see it through. Do find those careers and talents and hobbies that make you zing, make your soul sing. I think itís worth a tiny paycheck to be happy with what youíre doing, whatever it is.



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