Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?

Last night, I attended my monthly critique group. We were set to discuss segment five of my over 300-page novel, currently a work-in-progress. The girls didn’t like segment five. They said my writing was sub-par, and some of the character behaviors didn’t make sense. This is a good critique group, who often says interesting, illuminating things, but last night, I could barely take it. Why? Because it got me wondering: if I’m already messing things up within the first hundred pages, who’s to say the next two hundred pages don’t completely suck? Who’s to say I don’t completely suck?

So is the interior dialogue of a writer.

As a writer, I am the following:
Moody
Easily discouraged
Impatient
Whiny
Fragile
Touchy
Cynical …
You get the idea.

My writer persona, although pretty on the page, is not pretty in life. Then again, writers aren’t pretty—not emotionally, at least. Emotionally, we’re whiny, bitchy, fragile souls, who have become unavoidably cynical from years of rejection. We’ve all received the form letter telling us, in so many words, “No, your work is awful, but I don’t have the balls to tell you, so I’ll tell you this isn’t what we’re looking for right now.” We’ve all found authors who make us want to give up because we’ll never be as good as, say, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, or the newly discovered Erin Kelly. We’ve all considered getting a day job, because what’s the use in spending a year writing a book when it’ll just get thrown in the garbage anyway? Finally, we’ve all had a little too much scotch and bemoaned our station while smacking our heads against a desk and saying, “I suck, I suck, I suck.”

Ah, the life of a troubled artist ...

There are plenty of inspirational books that tell writers to keep at it, it’ll be okay, just keep trying. One of these is Stephen King’s On Writing. His is more a philosophy book than a book about writing, but in his way, he gets the job done. For Christmas, I received David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist. I started reading it yesterday, and the first chapter is called “Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?” When Mr. Morrell has asked this question in the past, there are a variety of responses. Money, for one, although from what I can tell only about twenty-five authors actually make money. Fame, but Oprah scares me, so why would you want to be famous? I thought about it myself, and I came up with my answer.

So, Mr. Morrell, in response to your question, “Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?” I offer the following response: Nobody in their right mind wants to be a writer. Being a writer is an awful, solitary, thankless profession that you may work hard at and never succeed in. Writing makes you crazy. Writing makes you miserable. The passion to write is a passion I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. So why? Why does Sara Dobie want to be a writer?

Because I have to be. Because there is something deep within my DNA that made me this … thing. If I don’t write for a couple days, I get horrible nightmares. If I don’t cleanse my imagination often, it gets freaky up there. I’ve tried to escape my fate. For years, I was a bartender, followed by wine sales. Then, I was a publicist. I was good at all these things, but there was always an itch—like a tiny, gnawing centipede in my brain—telling me, “Nice try, Dobes, but you aren’t getting out of this. You will be a writer, and it’s futile to resist.”

I’ve screamed at God every time I get another rejection letter, lose another contest, hit another roadblock … “God, why the hell did you give me this ability? What the hell do you want me to do with it? Because after years of failure, it feels like you don’t want me to do anything with this ability … except be miserable.” I can see God up there; He’s shaking His head, telling me to suck it up and be patient. To which I reply, “But that’s the problem, Lord; sometimes, I think I really do suck.”

I don’t mean to be a downer. It’s just that in college, I was top of my class. I’ve always been successful and driven, and yet, I’ve spent the past ten years watching my friends get promotions and buy houses. I linger on, poor and career-less. They call me “an artist,” when what they mean is, “Sara sure didn’t cash in on that honors diploma.” What do I do? Do I give in and check out Monster.com? Do I lay in fetal position on my couch and drink a bottle of Macallan 12?

No. I know how that story ends. If I get a real job, I’ll just be miserable. If I drink a bottle of scotch, I’ll be miserable. If I spend the day going over my book, I might be semi-miserable, too, but it’ll be a misery with purpose. God, in His infinite wisdom, made me a writer. I am a writer. It sucks, it’s thankless, and it may never pay off … but this is the path laid out for me.  There’s method behind life’s madness, if we’re patient enough to put up with the bulls@#& and see it through to the end of the rainbow. Maybe, I’ll find a pot of gold. Maybe, I’ll find a drunken leprechaun. Either way, when I got home last night, Jake was here to hug me, kiss me, and tell me, “At least you look really hot.” If that isn’t positive reinforcement, I don’t know what is.

16 thoughts on “Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?

  1. I would buy your book. Well used of course .. I am not made of money.

    Brave to let a writers group critique your novel. Probably feels a lot like getting punched.

    • That’s EXACTLY what it feels like. But I’m sure in mature hindsight, I will appreciate the process. Today, I’m just gonna nurse my wounds.

  2. I clicked “Like” and now I feel I need to explain myself.

    I clicked it not because writing makes the writer miserable, but because I completely and totally, deep down in my soul, agree with everything you wrote in this post.

    I am way behind you on the writing road; my first draft is such crap that massive re-work is necessary before presenting it for critique. If I did it now, I’d be wasting everyone’s time.

    Regardless, I will eventually get my novel in decent enough shape and all I can think as I peer into the hazy future is that I’m looking forward to the whole experience, body slamming comments and all. How messed up is that?

    • It’s so nice to hear from other writers who understand what I’m trying to convey. The critique process is awful, but in the long run, it strengthens not only our writing but our character. Best of luck as you continue writing! I’ll keep an eye out for your name on the bestseller list 🙂

  3. How many times did Hemmingway rewrite a sentence?
    How many novels have the ladies in the writing group published?
    Repeat after me: I DO NOT SUCK.
    Trust me, you do not suck. Anyone that could craft that brilliant review of the Black Swan does not suck. I know we will all be celebrating your success of your first novel. I will even pay retail :)))

  4. I’ve been in on this whole process since junior high when you wrote that civil war romance novelette. I’ve watched you over and over as you wrote hilarious short stories (remember floor 21/2 and the Upper Sandusky story) and several novels through high school and college. I have always just been in awe that the words flowed out of you with such ease! I could barely write a 300 word composition and you had to stop yourself after 10 pages. This is truly a gift! You are an amazing, talented and humorous writer and don’t forget what a miracle it is that you are able to put the right words together and tell great stories. And your blog brings joy to so many and brightens up our days with laughter and tears, too. Keep going, Baby. We’ll all keep reading. Doesn’t matter what those publishers think. And it’s not just because I’m your Mom! Love you

    • You’re the best mom in the world. I’m not kidding. Thank you for being patient, understanding, and ever supportive of your crazy artist kids!

  5. Your writing definitely doesn’t suck- if it did I wouldn’t follow your blog. I am in the middle of publishing my second book and if I had given in to the nay-sayers that have rejected my work over the past decade I wouldn’t have even published a page. My editor told me that writers make terrible editors and that editors are usually poor writers so anything that a critique group says should probably be taken with a grain (or two) of salt. Don’t give up. The life of an artist may be hard but it is also so much more fulfilling than the life of anyone who doesn’t have the courage to follow their dreams and ambitions. Good luck!!!

    • You’re so right. It is fulfilling … it just takes patience (and as my family and friends know, I am not patient). It also takes the support of other writers. Which I have from readers / writers like YOU. Thank you!

  6. Oh wow! I can soooooo relate to this post. I constantly sway back and forth about how “serious” I am about writing. Serious, meaning do I submit and keep going to critique group vs. writing for fun in my spare time just for myself with no aspirations of going any further.

    the truth is I HAVE to write. I can’t stop writing. That’s not an option. Maybe someday it will turn into something more. Maybe it won’t. But at least I’m doing what I love to do.

    Keep going girl! You’ve got it in you. You’ll be glad you didn’t give up.

  7. I love the line, “Suck it up and and be patient.”

    Oh – how I think I hear the similar things sometimes. A friend wrote something similar today. His motto, though, was “Just shut up and sing.” I think ours should be “Just shut up and write.”

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