Writing Is Unrewarding. Why Do It?

posted in: A Writer's Life | 4

Why write fiction? Writing is unrewarding. Not an item you would often find in a bucket list (things you hope to do in your life)—if we mean writing a novel, an essay, or a short story. But it probably makes that of people who love words deeply, or have a need, an urge to spill their guts onto pieces of real or virtual paper.

Writing is not exactly a drive you’re born with, but it becomes as natural as speech. Language is wired into everyone of us. Both speech and the written word are merely ways by which we use that language to communicate.

Calvin’s Wisdom

Writing is so natural that, for some, it is a necessity. I know at least one person who writes volumes of journals that, maybe, no one else except for her or people close to her would ever read. Some people are just driven by a need to see those words on a page. I know I am.

Writing is not exactly what you do if you want an adrenaline rush. It is an adventure, yes, but a rather solitary one. One project alone can stretch from hours into days. Into years. For some of us, it’s best done when everything is still and the only company you have may be nocturnal crickets outside your window occasionally reminding you they’re there.

Writing is punishing if you want to push it further than your hard drive—from nights glued to your computer creating your life’s work; to months of plodding toil, editing, revising, and proofing; to the ego-busting rejection letters if you want to go traditional—and, finally, to reviews by people who can hardly care about what and how you write. The product of your heart and mind, your sweat and tears, your id and your ego—like any other piece of art—is subject to taste, fads, and personal whims of a nameless, faceless audience.

You may actually wonder why anyone would go through all that misery, particularly because most writers (indie or traditional) can’t live on book earnings. Oh, yes, writing can sell well. But only if:

  • You’re some kind of celebrity or someone who’s gotten media attention for doing something notorious or crazy and you write about yourself or your experience.

    Sometimes I wonder if man is a born voyeur or, maybe, we just like to be entertained or reassured by such stories.

  • You already have a big following.

Or, if none of the above:

  • You’ve written erotica.

    Sex seems never out of fashion although few people will publicly admit to having any interest in erotica. I once read about a writer who lamented the zero interest in her novels … until she wrote erotica. Then, she made some money,

    One of my novels has a couple of steamy bedroom scenes. I convinced myself it was necessary to the story, Still, this novel, like many others, that incorporate such scenes, would never count as erotica. Bedroom scenes are standard in many romance novels. (Those that have none are ennobled by the labels “sweet” or “clean.” Huh? Sex is sour and dirty?). The line between erotica and steamy novels may be a matter of numbers (of sex scenes, that is,) and word usage.

But for some of us:

Writing is most satisfying when it is somehow tied into a quest for the soul (or spirit or whatever you want to call that non-material sum total of who you are). And if you’re like me, the writing my soul connects with is not necessarily the most profitable one. Maybe because that writing is the most individual, most idiosyncratic of what we produce. It wouldn’t have a wide appeal.

Writing, like all other arts, has been freed up by the Internet, as the web has done with many other aspects of our lives. Digital readers have increased the number who read, and altered reading habits.

So a writer can choose not to rely on a publisher and more people have been drawn into dusting pages they have stashed in locked drawers or password-protected files or putting into words, for the first time, stories that have been playing in their heads for some time.

Just as many more people have forayed into the visual arts, more have plunged into writing and self-publishing, particularly since the gap in earnings is closing between indies and “traditional” authors.

4 Responses

  1. While I sometimes don’t write much, I always feel better after creating in any fashion.

    • I think there is a human need, if not an urge, to create and it can take any artistic form from painting to writing.
      Thanks, Sandy, and keep on creating!

  2. Your writing about writing shows reflection on your history of writing.

  3. Most likely true, but we can’t get away from our history, can we? I do have my own small regret about writing. I should have started earlier, out of high school, but my parents convinced me as I was going to university, that there’s no money in writing. And, of course, they’ were largely right.

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