On December 30th, 2001, I made pretty much the worst decision of my life.
I decided I wanted to be a writer.
And not just any writer, but a balls-to-the-wall, grind my fingers to stumps, spend every night alone with a bottle of scotch and a laptop whose battery is ready to die…writer.
And no I don’t regret it.
And yes I do.
These days, everyone has written a book. Or at least they have a book idea. I’m reluctant to mention my profession anymore, given everyone’s opinion on the matter:
“I want to write a book, too!” people will tell me.
“I have this great idea. I just need to get it on paper,” they’ll say.
“I started something a few months ago. I’ll finish it one day,” my bartender muses.
To these well-meaning folk, I want to say awful things:
“You don’t want to write a book.”
“You’re not gonna finish anything.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Usually I just nod and smile. After all, my bartender (who helped inspire this little tome) is a sweet lady. She makes a mean cocktail, and she doesn’t need to hear my negativity. And my friends who like to talk about their works-in-progress, they’re good people, too. It’s best to let them believe writing is something one does part-time, that it’s something everyone can do.
Actually, it’s something almost no one should do.
If there’s a culprit, it’s the rise of the self-publishing market. I’m looking at you, Amazon, Smashwords, and all the other upstart platforms. No, I’m not upset about it. These outlets are how I pay the bills. But yeah…ok…I’m a little upset about it. Suddenly everyone in the world has the power to publish anything they want. This means the die-hard, out-of-their-goddamn-mind authors like me have to compete with pretty much everyone else on the planet.
It’s fine. I don’t mind a good fight. I just worry about the sanity of my contemporaries. This kind of competition doesn’t happen in other lines of work. Not everyone in the world can be a plumber, a lawyer, a chef, or a porn star. I can’t wake up tomorrow and decide to be a congressman. I can’t paint a big white hand on my face and join the ranks of the Uruk-Hai.
But everyone can be a published author.
It’s not that I want this to change; I don’t. Writers chasing their dreams is a good thing. It’s far better for people to challenge themselves with the task of writing a book than it is for them to relax and enjoy their lives, maintain good relationships with their loved ones, or kick back and play the latest video game system no one can actually buy.
Am I being sarcastic?
I honestly don’t know anymore.
What do I know? Most people shouldn’t write books. I’m not talking about the quality of writers’ grammar or the sharpness of their prose; those are subjects for a different article entirely. I’m referring to the commitment of life resources required to be an author. It’s not just about the time investment, but a willingness to sacrifice a large portion of one’s ordinary life. Wordsmiths have to write, re-write, edit, and re-edit. Writers must embrace being alone, lost on islands of imagination no one else can perceive, wandering at the edge of the abyss armed only with words.
Few enjoy such things.
And fewer still savor the horror of realizing one’s work is sub-par, that monkeys in cages could write with more emotion, or the sinking feeling that…honestly…no one gives a shit about what one has written.
Writing for money? It’s similar to prostitution, given the punishment one must endure to turn even the mildest profit. I’ve never seen a group so comfortable with self-loathing as the average indie author. The blank page, worst of all enemies, hits harder than a Conor McGregor left hand. A book half-finished has the power of infinite patience, and a novel doesn’t care whether it’s complete. Words, weak or strong, offer no consolation to their creators. We’re selling our minds for pennies, and we get ploughed in the process.
Fact: a writer’s work is never finished. Most other tasks in the universe, save perhaps art and music, are finite in duration. Fix a broken pipe? Done. Go grocery shopping? Ok. Handle Brexit? Gimme a few years. All of these will one day be complete.
But writing? It’s forever. You might finish one book, but you’ll never push every idea out of your head. Go ahead and die trying. I dare you.
To the novice writer, the weekend warrior poet, or the new-to-the-industry author, I have just one suggestion:
You’ll never find happiness doing this. Even if you do manage to make it big (you won’t) the money won’t make it worthwhile. You’ll get lost in the same swamp with every novel you write. You’ll finish one story only to find it begets three more. Your short story will turn into a trilogy, and your trilogy into a thousand tales you’ll never live long enough to tell.
You want to be happy? Take up MMA fighting. Build your own house. Plant a garden. Sit down and watch a good movie.
Whatever you do, don’t commit to being an author. You’ll find every moment of your life more challenging than the moment before. You’ll fall into a hole out of which you’ll never be able to climb.
And you’ll probably get fat from sitting on your ass every day.
Am I being satirical?
Hell if I know.
J Edward Neill