Why it’s great being a writer (even when it’s not)

People say all the time that you have to be crazy if you want to be a writer. Most of the people saying this are other writers. If you wonder why, take a look at my week.

First–good news!–I found out the wonderful Molly Lee chose me to be her Pitch Wars alternate! I buzzed on this high for days, especially when I learned she fought off another mentor to get me.  This means I’ll get her feedback on my pitch and have a spot in the alternate showcase–a chance to get some more exposure and maybe catch the eye of an agent.

On the down side, I got rejection letters for two separate projects I’m trying to get published. Rejection is part of the process of trying to find the right home for your work, but that doesn’t make them sting any less. Of course, writers aren’t supposed to take things personally. Publishing is a business, after all. Even a stack of rejections doesn’t necessarily mean our work is bad, just that we haven’t found the right agent or editor. But we’re human. It still feels like a kick in the gut.

Then I found out that the Mormon History Association included an article I published last year in Pioneer magazine, “Growing the Kingdom: Mormon Pioneer Gardens,” in their “Book Notices/Selected Articles.” So, again, I feel pretty cool. It turned my week into a cycle of “I’m awesome! I suck. I’m awesome! I suck.”

Dealing with those ups and downs can be rough, especially because there are usually more downs than ups. Stack on top of that the fact that the majority of writers don’t make enough money to give up our day jobs, even when we do get published. In the meantime, we’re doing all this for the love of the craft, stealing hours from sleep or other pastimes to get our work done–writing, editing, critiquing, blogging, tweeting, querying, entering contests, reading, researching. All the while there are plenty of people rolling their eyes when we say we want to be authors, telling us to stop wasting our time.

I’ve asked myself why I’m doing this. Why I give up other things I enjoy–things that might even bring a steady income–to slave away over my computer and collect stacks of reject letters. At the heart of it, I keep going because I love writing too much to quit.

Aside from that, I’ve thought of some other things that make writing great, no matter which stage you’re at or what your ultimate goals are for your writing:

  • Everything is research. Seriously. Rereading your favorite book is research. So is going to a movie, playing with your kids, clicking endless links about food in 6th century China, working in the garden, having the flu, people watching, shooting a black powder musket, staring at clouds. If you’re paying attention, everything teaches you more about life and makes your writing better.
  • Writers can ask the strangest questions and get away with it. I was working on a scene where a character finds a bone (possibly human) and tries to use it as part of an escape plan, but I wasn’t sure if the scene was feasible. So, I went to the butcher ‘s counter and told him I needed a bone about the size of a human arm bone. The guy looks at me, at my two little kids smiling happily in the shopping cart, and raises an eyebrow. I add, “I’m a writer. It’s research for a book.” He relaxes and smiles. “Oh, all right. I have something that should work.” Now there’s nothing weird about it at all. Decomposition rates? How to make gun powder? The color ether produces when it burns? They’re all fair game.
  • In the balance between consuming and creating, writers are adding more to the world, contributing to the great dialogue of what it means to live and be human. At best, writers share their ideas with others, but at the very least they explore them themselves. Writing teaches you to look and think about things differently, including yourself.
  • When you get serious about writing, you reach out to others in the writing world, whether looking for feedback or advice or people who want to read or publish your work. This is a network of awesome people. Sure, you’ll find some you don’t get along with, but overall this is a great community to be involved in.

So, if writing is your thing, don’t give up on it. It’ll drag you up and down, but  there’s a lot to learn from the ride. Your goals may change over time, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You’re way ahead of the people who never try. (This pep talk is mostly for me during the down times, but you’re welcome to listen in 😉 ).

Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and psychologist, said, “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself …”

One thought on “Why it’s great being a writer (even when it’s not)

  1. sjoycarlson September 10, 2014 / 10:41 pm

    Haha I hear ya. We write because we love, right? I couldn’t quit even if I knew 100% I’d never get published. Attitude is everything though, and remembering it’s a business definitely helps. Congrats and Best of luck as a PW alt! So curious as to what that whole process is like!


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