Episode Title: Who are we writing for anyway?
In this second Writing from Behind the Curve blog, I want to extend the thinking that I commented on in Blog #1 for short stories and novels. Let’s talk about the act of story writing, irrespective of its length. It has often occurred to me that certain assumptions are made about the typical evolution of a writer. You know, that a well-educated younger writer, long on aspiration but short on finances, puts all other personal interests aside and works relentlessly through the nights, always moving toward that best seller. The admonishment to this writer from the writing community is, of course, to keep writing, no matter what. And while this scene of dedication no doubt occurs and is commendable, I note, on the other hand, that there is little if anything said to the rest of us would be writers—the ones who achieved meaningful employment or management of a stable family life early on, stayed with it, took on ever greater responsibilities in job, family, and community, with the time constraints imposed therein, and never, then, got around to writing that short story or novel. So here we are at age 45, 55, or even 75, and find ourselves with the distant desire to write, but also reluctant to take the plunge. Why? I mentioned in Blog #1 the rather surprising statistic that eighty percent of adults, when polled, say that they wanted to write a book at some point in their lives, but that only two percent actually do. As discussed, for many, life’s other demands took precedence. Over time, the thought of writing simply withdrew into the caverns of the mind. But now that you may finally be experiencing a more settled life, one with a bit more discretion, what is stopping you now?
A little background: Fortunately, for all of us, there will always be dedicated young students that love the written word and wish to make a career conveying their stories. But even those trained in the art of writing have only a modest prospect. For every major writer, whose name might be widely known in reading circles, there are tens of thousands of even published writers for whom the bells of notoriety will never toll. In fact, a typical traditionally published novel will average sales of just 250 copies per year and 3000 copies over its published lifetime (the now ubiquitous e-book will typically have sales much lower than this). And yet, we are fascinated when at a gathering we meet a published writer who comes to us with all of the romanticism that we have conjured up for those whose works are worth paying for. One who, through intellect and hard work, has crossed a bridge that we may have dreamed of crossing all of our busy adult lives.
Time has passed now and we are no longer that young person who could actually have made the decision to become the writer within, no matter where that might have taken us—to notoriety or to obscurity. So we say to ourselves that no one will want to read us at this late date and certainly not publish us. And I say back to you, “So what?” You see, it is the wrong frame of reference to continue to think in terms of being published. That thinking is the sand in the machinery of your mind that grinds you into inactivity, into the abandonment of your life-long dream to write. Rather, ask yourself this: Do you still have a story to tell and does it really matter if it is published or even widely read? In short, first and foremost, you must write for yourself, not for family, friends, notoriety, and certainly not for a publisher. Yes, it is still narrowly possible that you might become the Grandma Moses of writing (she didn’t begin to paint in earnest until she was 78). With some exceptions, however, by beginning to write later in life as you are now, you will probably not write best sellers, and you will probably not be published in the traditional sense. But you will have finally said what you have to say, as only you can say it.
What you will write, with some on-going encouragement from me, will be yours to hold dear, share with family and friends, or share with the world at large, as you see fit. Remember, should you choose, the digital cloud will allow the many generations who follow to read your story and to look back into your mind at what you thought was important to write. We’ll talk about the avenues you might pursue in the bruiting of your work in a later blog. For now, you’re on the launching pad, ready for that long overdue takeoff!
Future blogs will cover a number of practical matters that may be rolling around in your head about now. Let me throw out just a few that we’ll be dealing with:
But I’ve never even taken a writing class!
How will I find time to write? They tell me I need to write daily.
Which of my story ideas should I write first?
Okay, I’m ready, but where do I begin?
What if my writing and grammar skills are suspect?
How do I create characters that people will care about?
How do I deal with this thing called Writer’s Block?