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Why I Write by Courtney Milan

I started a Why I Read/Why I Write series earlier in the year but couldn’t sustain enough submissions to keep posting them.   Courtney Milan sent this to me earlier in the year and I promised to post it near her release date.

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lookupInsert the depressing numbers of your choice into this paragraph: Of the wannabe authors who start a novel, only one out of a gazillion will finish. Of those who finish a novel, one out of a thrillion will find a publisher. Maybe one out of a bobillion will get a second contract, and of those, a mere snarkful will make more than thruppence per hogshead of sweated blood.

Another depressing fact: In order to write a novel, an author must sweat many hogsheads of blood. So why would any rational person ever voluntarily write a book?

Here’s the socially acceptable answer: "The pleasure of writing is compensation enough, and publishing is just be an added bonus! I write for the sheer joy of it."

Um. Sometimes writing is a joy for me. But sometimes I despise it, and so I harbor dark suspicions whenever anyone claims writing is nothing but kittens and cheery yellow daffodils. I don’t write just for pleasure; if I did, I would have stopped after the first month. Sometimes I enjoy it, but when the going gets tough, writing is torment. Why would any rational person ever write a book?

I can’t answer that question. I write because I am not a rational person.

In fact, I suspect rational people rarely write novels. Deciding to write fiction is like looking at a mountain and saying, "See Kilimanjaro? I’m going to climb it."

A brief pause for rational analysis: In the "pro" column for Kilimanjaro-scaling, we have "dubious bragging rights." In the "con" column, we have "tremendous expense," "guaranteed fatigue," "weeks of discomfort," and "potential loss of life."

The irrational person lifts her chin to Kilimanjaro, glances over the cons with a crazy glint in her eye, and thinks: I could die. Awesome. Bring it on.

You have to be irrational to write, not just because the possibility of reward is miniscule, but because good stories are about a character’s inability to accept that what they must have is impossible. Easy journeys over obscure hills, chosen to maximize the healthful benefits of exercise and minimize the possibility of death, make boring books. Irrationality is the stuff of stories.

It’s also the stuff of determination. I would not write if it were not hard. I look at those impossible, irrational numbers and think, I could struggle for the rest of my life in obscurity, and nobody will ever care how many hogsheads of blood I sweat.

Bring it on.

—–
Courtney Milan
http://www.courtneymilan.com
“This Wicked Gift,” in THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS, HQN, available now
PROOF BY SEDUCTION, HQN, January 2010
- Show quoted text -

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

29 Comments

  1. Ciar Cullen
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:10:09

    Ah, love this post. Thanks for sharing. I think there are many of us who say “I’m going to start with the Smoky Mountain foothills and make pretend I’m not training for Kilamanjaro.” It’s just as nuts, but you’re able to make pretend you’re a little more sane.

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  2. Vicky Dreiling
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:43:45

    Excellent post, Courtney. I used to think all other writers had these great processes and just zipped through their manuscripts – unlike moi! I cut so much material while writing the last book (the one I sold in June) that by the time I got done, I figured I’d easily written enough to fill 10 books. Naturally I’ve never gotten around to deleting the many, many in-progress versions in my pc files. Maybe I’ll print, shred, and use them in my pet rabbit’s litter box. Could it be that different from *Yesterday’s News?*

    But when the muses are kind (mine are 3 gently aging romance fairies), the writing is truly like magic. And that makes all the tough times worth it. The again, I’m like my bunny; I chase carrot sticks.

    May the magic romance fairies be with you.

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  3. Janine
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:44:53

    Here's the socially acceptable answer: “The pleasure of writing is compensation enough, and publishing is just be an added bonus! I write for the sheer joy of it.”

    Um. Sometimes writing is a joy for me. But sometimes I despise it, and so I harbor dark suspicions whenever anyone claims writing is nothing but kittens and cheery yellow daffodils. I don't write just for pleasure; if I did, I would have stopped after the first month. Sometimes I enjoy it, but when the going gets tough, writing is torment. Why would any rational person ever write a book?

    I can't answer that question. I write because I am not a rational person.

    Thank you for saying that! So true for me as well. I wish the sheer pleasure was compensation. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s….not. I’m irrational too.

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  4. Leslie Dicken
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:45:48

    In fact, I suspect rational people rarely write novels. Deciding to write fiction is like looking at a mountain and saying, “See Kilimanjaro? I'm going to climb it.”

    Ha! Yes! I hate it when I hear “oh anyone can write a book/that trash/crappy fiction” or “what’s so hard about getting published.”

    If I have a few hours, I’ll tell them the processes involved in WRITING the damn book and then what it takes to get it published!!

    Great post, Courtney!

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  5. Courtney Milan
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:50:05

    “The pleasure of writing is compensation enough, and publishing is just be an added bonus! I write for the sheer joy of it.”

    Er. Proofreading, apparently, is also a bonus that is not always added. Assume I removed that extra be.

    And thanks for the kind comments. If writing is like climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s doubly important that your expedition be filled with good people who don’t make you feel like you are a crazy person (even though, hello, I am). I’ve been lucky enough to know some of the best–and that includes you all.

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  6. gwen hayes
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 12:57:13

    I have added “thrillion” to my lexicon. I heart Courtney Milan. I can’t wait to read your single title–loved the anthology.

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  7. ReacherFan
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 13:00:58

    Excellent post! Thanks.

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  8. Karen Templeton
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 13:09:03

    The irrational person lifts her chin to Kilimanjaro, glances over the cons with a crazy glint in her eye, and thinks: I could die. Awesome. Bring it on.

    I can now return to my thrillionith editing pass with a lighter heart.

    What’s that quote? I hate writing, but I love having written?

    Most excellent post, Courtney.

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  9. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 13:09:32

    I write to entertain people. Pleasing myself is part of it. I get a lot of that “sheer joy” feeling. But without readers, I don’t think I’d continue.

    Also…not as hard as Kilimanjaro.

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  10. Katie
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 14:13:43

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Maybe for some. But I agree with Courtney 100 %. Writing is a lot like hard work.

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  11. SonomaLass
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 14:15:57

    Hmm, this helps to explain several things to me. One, why my DP writes “for fun” — he used to climb mountains for the same reason. He is a leetle crazy. Two, why I get along so well with many authors — I’m irrational too, although it manifests itself differently than writing fiction. Three, why I enjoy Courtney’s writing so much. Which I do, both her blog posts and the stories of hers that I have read (two, and eager for more).

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  12. RKCharron
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 14:24:19

    Hi Courtney :)
    Thank you for the great post.
    After checking your figures (which are entirely accurate) I discovered I didn’t care either, that I write because I must, because it fulfills me.
    Thanks again,
    RKCharron
    xoxo

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  13. Kris Kennedy
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:09:34

    Courtney~
    Great post! It’s so true–you can’t write just for joy or pleasure, b/c those are fleeting, come-and-go things, like all emotional experiences. A person writing for pleasure alone would give up pretty quickly.
    I’m fairly certain one reason I write is b/c I have a better chance of getting people to do what I want in my stories than in the real world. :-)
    Can’t wait for your story, Proof By Seduction, in January!

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  14. katiebabs
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:23:22

    Anyone who can stick with writing after revising too many times to count and re-reading their words over and over until they losing their minds means there is love there for their craft.

    Kudos to you Courtney!

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  15. Pamala Knight
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:40:18

    Great post, Courntey! You’ve boiled the pros and cons of writing down to their lovely and mercurial essence. Like others have said, I’m anxiously awaiting the release of PROOF BY SEDUCTION.

    Thanks!

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  16. Zoe Archer
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:51:10

    Because if I didn’t write, I’d go crazy. But when I write, I am crazy.

    Great post, Courtney!

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  17. Sara Lindsey
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 16:52:39

    Yes, you are completely crazy, but that’s why I love you! I’m working on FAQs for my website and I’m so tempted to answer “What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?” — “Don’t.” Writing is some kind of masochistic compulsion – if I had a choice, would I really put myself through it?

    There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

    Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

    Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. ~George Orwell, “Why I Write,” 1947

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  18. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:00:41

    @Katie and @Courtney

    I didn’t mean to downplay anyone’s struggles! Of course writing is hard work. Sorry. : )

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  19. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:06:57

    I always say I write for money–it sounds more rational.

    But then I tally all the fuckillion hours I’ve spent writing over eleven years and divide them into the compensation I’ve thus far received and it comes out to be about $1.87 per hour.

    Guess I’m more irrational than I thought.

    Give me a chair at the nuts table.

    (And I’ve already read Courtney’s single title, PROOF BY SEDUCTION, and it is going to be on many people’s Best of 2010 lists.)

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  20. Melissa Blue
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:25:46

    I blame my irrational behavior on my obsessive type personality. The only way to know how the story in my head ends is to write it. Oh and I should go back and make it sparkle as many times as it’s needed. Since I did all this work might as well see if someone wants to buy it. Odds? What odds? Oh, the ones that say I’m more likely to get struck by lighting than to get published? Well someone, at some points has to stand under a tree wearing metal bracelets during a thunderstorm.

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  21. Veronica Sand
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 17:51:25

    Fabulous blog entry. Writing is somewhat like torture, so the Kilimanjaro analogy works for me. Oh, and I have to agree with Sherry Thomas. For most people, the compensation is miniscule in comparison to the blood, sweat and tears.

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  22. MaryK
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 19:16:54

    Hilarious! This is the most “rational” description of a writer’s mind I’ve ever read.

    BTW, I bought The Heart of Christmas because I liked “The Goddess of Small Things.”

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  23. Courtney Milan
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 20:06:01

    @Jill Sorenson Oh, yes, there are a number of differences between climbing, say, K2, and writing a book, the death rate being one of them. :)

    And I should say, writing isn’t always torture. There are those moments when something just comes together, when you surprise yourself with something you didn’t have in you.

    There’s something addictive about pushing yourself to do more than you think possible.

    And thank you, everyone, who has mentioned my debut novel, especially Sherry for her tireless pimping.

    Also, special thanks to MaryK for buying the anthology!

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  24. Anon76
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:45:23

    Great post, Courtney

    I too have looked askance at those who claim they write for the pure joy of it, with or without publication. Some of them really do mean it (which just boggles my mind) while others are just repeating what they believe a writer is supposed to say.

    Thanks for being upfront about how YOU regard the situation. Now I don’t feel so much like the odd man out. LOL

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  25. Anon76
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:58:23

    Kris Kennedy said:

    “I'm fairly certain one reason I write is b/c I have a better chance of getting people to do what I want in my stories than in the real world.”

    That made me giggle. At the time I started writing I’d been off work for a number of months with no new job in sight. Jumping on a trend at the time, I bought the SIMS first game and spent hours playing it.

    I worked my butt off to manipulate those creatures to my will, but just as with writing a book, if I took my eyes off one character for a second, poof, it was doing its own thing.

    And yes, I will evily admit to forcing a character to pee his/her pants every once in a while because he/she refused to fully cooperate. Kind of like writing a throw away scene just to get the angst out.

    Yep, count me among the crazy.

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  26. Pam Rosenthal
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 19:19:05

    I write because I can’t dance.

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  27. Katie
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 08:12:15

    @Pam Rosenthal: I love it :-)

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  28. Pam Rosenthal
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 08:36:33

    Thanks, Katie — smiley back on ya! :-)

    ReplyReply

  29. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 10:04:19

    And I write because I can’t paint.

    ReplyReply

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