Why should you keep writing?

I have no good reason to offer you to explain why you should keep writing. In fact, if you can stop writing, you should do so immediately.Being a writer means a life of solitary grappling with the blank page. It means driving yourself mad at 1, 2 or 3am when the story “isn’t going well.” It means countless hours of re-writes, edits, and wrestling with the same questions – too much? not enough? done before?

There are so many other things to do with your time, the chances of large scale success so small, the costs of mental anguish so high, that to proceed down this path is folly. Madness.

You’re still here?

Let me remind you that incomprehensible amounts of rejection await you. Every item you will ever write will be rejected numerous times, sometimes for years on end. You will have some pieces that can never get placed, regardless of the amount of time and sweat equity you put into them.

You are still reading.

Now I have to point out that, as a short story writer, you will never, ever, ever make a living from doing this. The vast majority of your works, even if accepted and published, will be done on a gratis non-paid basis.

I’m unclear as to why you continue reading this post. I’ve pointed out all the things you will face – anguish, hardship, rejection, lack of monetary compensation, pain, and dejection. I have given you no upside, and yet you persist. Do you think I’m going to end this item with some uplifting banter about how it’s not really all that bad?

I’m not.

But I am going to tell you that if you got this far, you are still filled with the hope that your compulsive obsession of jotting words down on a page and assembling and reassembling those words for hours, days and weeks is meaningful. And for you, writer, it is.

Your need to write defies all that is logical and sane. You stand in the face of repeated rejection and stare into the dark abyss of knowing people may not be reading your stories and you do it anyway. You can’t pay all your bills and you have a job (two jobs?) on the side, but you aren’t going to stop no matter what people tell you.

And there it is. You can’t stop. Writing is your drug of choice. It creates satisfaction within you; it’s an act that you do for its own sake. No one needs to tell you to keep going or to stop. It’s not an optional activity – it never was for you and never will be.

So please, for the sake of your well being, don’t ask yourself or others to validate your need, your obsession, your inexplicable compulsion to be a writer. You will never find an answer to that question because there is no answer. It’s just how it is.

4 Responses

  1. Once, many years ago, I had the privilege to interview the brilliant,pioneering composer Pauline Oliveros.

    In the 1950s, the very young, determined and apparently confident composer left her Texas home with no money and traveled to California to pursue her vocation. The road was fraught with peril.

    I asked her, “How did you have the confidence to do that? How did you know you would succeed?”

    She replied “Well, sometimes you just have to do what you know is right, and sooner or later somebody will pay you for it.”

    Recently I had the opportunity to speak with her again and I reminded her of what she said. I told her, “You know, I agree with the first part alright, but I’m not so sure about the second.” She just laughed.

    Or as the poet John Giorno says:
    “Thank you for making me a poet.
    Doomed, but the only choice.”

    • Yeah, sadly the “sooner or later somebody will pay you for it…” isn’t true. You have to be connected to the power structures that are, frankly, essentially incomprehensible to me.

      I don’t know how the big money behind the music industry, publishing industry, or art industry works. But it IS big money, and big influence, that creates success – hopefully in addition to talent.

      • History has vetted two jazz musicians of the 1960’s as the most influential of theirs and subsequent generations of players; John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. No single player since has eclipsed the influence of these two artists.

        In each case, the fundamental achievement and explicit goal of them both was to change the role of musician from one of entertainer to one of religious practitioner. What they said (and lived) was “what I do is not about the music business, it is a method of spiritual transformation.” Countless musicians since then have adopted this very same endeavor, with varying degrees of success. Success in their estimation was the transformation of their ordinary selves into something extra-ordinary. Water into wine; lead into gold.

        The measure of success for the religious (or spiritual if you prefer) is completely different and divorced from the measure of success in money. They are incompatible. Others far wiser than I have said so many times.

        So the question remains as you asked it in your post. Why are you writing, and what do you want?

        • The answer is I write because I feel compelled to do it. I have a need to create; I want to leave something behind when I’m gone that people can understand was a part of me.

          In purely non-monetary terms the “what do I want” question is also reasonably simple, I want readers to read what I’ve written and, hopefully, to be moved in some way by what they read.

          But I’d like to achieve something quantifiable as monetary success with my writing too. But I’m not spending every waking hour on achieving this goal, so it’s not likely to happen. 🙂

          I do not expect pixie dust to float down out of the sky and one day be “discovered” by some super-agent or traditional publishing house. I’m not even sure those are the means to achieve monetary success anymore anyway.

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