A friend of mine–a guy who *can* write, in that he can put words and stories together in an interesting and compelling fashion–just came to a revelation:
He’s not a writer.
He knows a lot of writers, by which I mean people who are successfully pursuing writing as a professional career. I think it’s easy, particularly if you have any kind of talent or impulse at all for putting words down on paper, to watch friends who are doing this and think, “I could do that. I *should* be doing that.”
For an awful lot of people, what this ends up translating to is guilt and anger over not writing, because often what they want is not to write, but to have written. Here’s the thing:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being a writer. There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbiest writer. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting publication or writing fanfic or just reading books and not writing them. There’s nothing wrong with writing an occasional story and not wanting to do more with it than post it for people to enjoy. Just because you’re capable of putting a story together doesn’t mean you have the–and oh, God, I hate using this word, because it creates a connotation of manic behavior, but that’s a topic for another essay–compulsion to do so. There’s nothing wrong with being able to write and not *wanting* to.
Years ago–I’m sure I’ve told this story here–Anne McCaffrey, upon hearing I wanted to be a writer, said, “Writing is a terrible, heartbreaking way to make a living. If you can do anything else, do it.”
I was barely twenty. I thought something to the effect of, “What the hell? Of *course* I *can* do other things. What’s that supposed to mean? I *want* to be a writer!”
I think it wasn’t until after I sold URBAN SHAMAN that I actually understood what she was saying. I could do other things, yes. I did web design and tech support and yadda yadda this and yadda yadda that and got paid for it and that was all well and good. But during nearly all that time, I was also writing. Writing was more important to me, generally speaking, then getting out of the house, hanging out with friends, doing social activities, whatever. I wrote five novels on my own and one with
That was what Anne meant. Nothing was going to stop me from writing or (because it was my personal goal) trying sell my books. I’d found a paycheck in other fields, but finding that paycheck hadn’t stopped me from writing and eventually from trying to get published. That I’ve managed to actually make a career of it is happy circumstance: if I still had a day job, I would still be writing. If I never got published, I’d still write, because in the end, I can’t do anything else.
Although I’d like to think I’m about the last person on earth to tell people not to pursue their dreams, I’ve also come to think Anne was right. If you *can* do something else and be satisfied, do it, not because writing is a terrible and heartbreaking way to make a living (although it is), but because there’s nothing wrong with not being a writer. Don’t beat yourself up about the time you feel you should be spending at the keyboard. Go do something energizing with that time instead. Give yourself permission, if that’s the necessary phrase, not to write. You may discover that a year from now, or ten years or twenty years, you will suddenly turn a corner and be ready to write. Maybe you won’t. But with any luck you’ll have had fun in the meantime, which is a hell of a lot better than being upset at a blank computer screen.
And now, because I have spent over an hour on this essay, I’m going to actually go to work myself. :)