Why be a writer?

by thomasibenton

In the not-remotely-new-to-the-internets-but-new-to-me category, with the help of @lswopemitchell on the twitter machine I recently read Cathy Day’s thoughts about what it means to be a writer:

Don’t be a writer because you have something to prove. Don’t do it because you think writers are celebrities. They are not celebrities. Don’t do it because you think it will bring you a happy life. I’m sorry, but it won’t. You shouldn’t write because you want to create something lasting, although that probably surprises you, doesn’t it? What better reason could there be? I’ve only found one good reason to sit on your ass for four months or four years, one good reason to give so much of yourself for so little in return, one good reason to create something that fewer and fewer people care about—and that’s simply because you want to.

And that, for me, sums up why I used to think that I wanted to write, back when I didn’t actually do much in the way of writing, as well as why I actually am writing now. 

When I was a young pup, people told me that I was good with words, that they enjoyed my stories of teen angst. My poems got me a date or two with equally angsty girls who wanted to play beatnik with me. It was a fun way to be a minor celebrity in an obscure part of the world effectively connected to the outside only through radio waves bringing in television programming. Plus, it was easy, since I could recycle the same few poems and stories over and over again with each new hillbilly girl.

Once I started at a college far from the home where I was raised, angst-ridden guys with too much black in their wardrobe where a dime a dozen, so my minor fame disappeared. Still, I figured I would write to create something lasting, and maybe along the way get famous, and maybe rich and popular with women again.

Guess what? It didn’t work. Not only did I not have the first idea how to actually get my work read in the larger world, I discovered something far worse: my writing really sucked. Sure, I was plenty talented for the little town that couldn’t even support a bookstore, but I wasn’t in the Ozarks anymore.

With the acceptance that my writing was not going to make me famous, or rich, or a playboy, I had to set about living my life. I got an education and a job. I met a girl the old fashioned way — I actually had to walk up and introduce myself to her and strike up a conversation. We got married and raised a family. Somehow I wound up with a career, a career other than writing.

It hasn’t been too bad, not too bad at all. In fact, it has mostly been fun. Several years back, though, I started writing again. I’m not entirely sure why I began chiseling off spare moments of time to put my thoughts and stories down. Maybe I remembered that I used to enjoy the process, even aside from my prior ulterior motives. Maybe I just had something to say, if only to myself.

So, here I am, pecking away on a blog for the parts of my writing that I actually share in the here and now. I write a post, read through it once and fix the grievous errors, and then click “publish.” It’s fun. It’s low stress. It’s not hard work. I work harder on my weird stories, but I am not writing and editing those with an eye towards making a living off of them, or securing my spot in literary history. I just want them to be good enough, so I am having fun.

I am not getting famous or anything, but the site stats here tell me that at least a few people come by and read what I have to say. Thanks! I appreciate that.

I am not making any money at all, much less getting rich, but I have a regular job to pay the bills. (I will go on the record as being willing to entertain offers for seven figure advances from anyone reading this, however. Yes, I am writing for my own pleasure, but I would be totally willing to sell out if the price is high enough.)

As for being an author-playboy, well, with the clear perspective afforded by age and experience, I realize it isn’t so much that that ship has sailed as that it never really docked or even was built. I am not, never have been, and never will be, a playboy, author or otherwise. We all think precious things when we are young.

So I peck away. I had bettered click the “publish” button quick, though. I have work to do.