26 June 2007

REPOST 5/11/05 Why do you write?

Recently, on a Yahoo group, the age old writing debate came up. No, not the one about NY romance vs. dark romance, though that comes up often enough. No, not the one about literary vs. genre, though you've probably heard that one as well. This time, the debate was on the assertion of some people that if you're writing to make money, get a new hobby.

Some people claim this is a harsh and untrue statement, but I can see a strong base in this for a few reasons. Whether you write articles for a daily newspaper or novels, poetry or biographies and histories, you have to be writing with a certain amount of enthusiasm for what you're doing. If you are supplying a dry recitation of dates and times, would many people keep reading? Not many. This statement doesn't only apply to fiction writing. It applies to most writing that is sold commercially, fiction or non.

Ever read a series, and somewhere along the line, the author lost that spark that drew you in? You could pretty much mark the moment when the author lost interest and when it became tedious...and chances are, you stopped reading. Why? It was just words on paper; there was no passion, no fire, no sincere interest in the characters and world. The author who should have been "crafting" had started using a punch press to deal out the books. THAT is the classic example of someone writing just for money.

It's not that authors shouldn't aim to earn money at what they do. It's not that we shouldn't dream big dreams and shoot for the top (though, admittedly, the chances of any one author being the next Stephen King, the next Nora Roberts, the next John Grisham or Tom Clancy are about the same as the chances of winning the lottery). The difference is that earning money should never become your ONLY reason for writing; nor should fame.

Here is the subtle twist to this discussion that many people miss. Why do most of us become authors? We write because we love to write! We write, in some cases, because writing is as central to our being as breathing, eating and sleeping is. In fact, we often have plot and dialog running through our fertile minds while we eat, sleep and even while we relax. Many of us relax BY writing.

That is the passion. That is the soul of the book. That is what makes it such a compelling read...not only the skill of choosing words but the inspiration and the beauty of the concept. If you lose that, why would you want to continue? If you lose that, how could your writing not suffer for it?

When you are selling a book, your enthusiasm for it is infectious. If you are excited about it, others around you will be as well. If you know your characters and world inside and out, it is more interesting to readers than someone who has to check notes.

Is it wrong to shoot for the stars? Of course not, but don't forget to watch the scenery on the way up and don't forget to celebrate the little steps along with the giant leaps. The NYT Bestseller list or USA Today Bestseller list is grand, but don't forget to appreciate a fan letter that brings a tear to your eyes or a smile to your lips, a 4 star review from RT or making the front page of your local newspaper. Fame is wonderful but don't forget to appreciate walking into the registration room at a convention and having people rush over to meet you who have only "met" you online, having people ask for your John Hancock on a bookmark or even saying on a list how much they enjoyed your book.

In short, if money is part of the program, you are like 90% of other published authors out there. There is nothing wrong with it. If money has become the only reason you write, get a new hobby. It's better for you and for readers if you do...and maybe your love of writing will come back if you do.

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