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.
Insert 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.
“This Wicked Gift,” in THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS, HQN, available now
PROOF BY SEDUCTION, HQN, January 2010
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