I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six. There were brief periods when I toyed with other vocations (among them archeologist and special effects makeup technician) but by and large, the drive’s been unwavering. I was born to write (I told myself with confidence), and that’s all there was too it. Sure, as I’ve gotten older, written more, tried to make a professional go at it, I’ve learned that things are tougher than I expected. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t make a difference: this particular madness is in my blood and there’s no shaking it. If I never make a nickel at it, I still refuse to stop doing it. (This isn’t courage so much as compulsion: real writers—the sort born to the craft—really are just a step away from OCD therapy in regard to their need to make shit up, write it down, and get other people to read it.)
However, I’ve learned that there are other sorts of people out there who answer the siren call of the blank page. Many of them haven’t harbored a deep, burning desire to write since they were children; many of them, no matter how seriously they take the craft when they come to it, don’t see it as their primary calling, but as a sort of interesting sideline; but, nonetheless, they’re out there: people who want to write a book—any book—just to see if they can. I have a number of friends who fall into this category. I try to be as supportive and encouraging and enthusiastic as possible. Problem is, they’ve always got a reason not to do it.
I understand this. I’ve found myriad reasons not to do a veritable mountain of sensible and rewarding things. But, since wisdom holds that we ultimately regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did, I would argue that most sensible people with an even mild inkling to try writing a book have no reason not to. So, in the interest of lighting fires under a few fannies, here are five damn good reasons why you—yes, you dear reader—should just throw caution to the wind and write that book.
First: It’s fun. Seriously. If you’ve never tried it, you should. You get to invent non-existent but fascinating people (not unlike a person afflicted with schizophrenia) then imagine all sorts of elaborate settings and situations and convoluted undertakings to involve them in (which is also, remarkably, similar to the psychological symptoms of the aforementioned schizoaffective affliction. Hmmmm…). You can make these well-wrought daydreams as grounded or as flighty as you like, keeping them confined to suburban U.S.A. or creating entire universes. Few things, friends and neighbors, are as rewarding as playing deity on the printed page, or lingering, voyeur-like, in the darkest shadows of your characters’ workspaces or bedrooms, bearing witness to their triumphs, their tribulations, their shames and their sorrows. This alone should convince you that you need to write a book. I shouldn’t even have to offer four more reasons.
But I will.
Second: It’s rewarding. Making art enlarges you (and yes, writing is art—even if you’re just out to write a pulp western or a bodice-ripping romance; I might draw the line at porny Twilight fanfic with the character names changed in order to avoid copyright infringement, though). When you set out to do a thing you’ve never done before, to learn its science well enough to be competent, and its art well enough to be unique and inspiring, you enrich your spirit, deepen your understanding of yourself and others, and gain confidence. Even if you find that you weren’t very good at it, or that you never want to do it again, you’ve got something to show for your effort: a completed, readable manuscript that you can yank out of your drawer on command, proudly display, and shout, “I did this! I made this glorious, awful, forgettable, daffy, sublime piece of misguided literary insanity! Yay, me!”
Wouldn’t you like to be enlarged (in a philosophical and spiritual sense, anyway)? Wouldn’t you like to be enriched? Wouldn’t you like to feel like you really did something that you set out to do? Something you never did before? Well, what the hell are you waiting for?
Oh, you still want three more reasons. You’re not convinced. Fine…
Third: It’s doable. Seriously—this isn’t climbing Mount Everest or exploring Mars or getting elected to public office without being the soiled bitch of moneyed special interest groups (which, so far as I can tell, may be the most impossible thing in the world to do). This is sitting down continually for a period of months, putting one word in front of the other to create the vivid and continuous dream that is a story, until said story finds its resolution and you type ‘The End.’ You can do this with a very minimal time commitment: an hour or two a day, five or six days a week (you’re allowed one off; two if you’ve maintained good output for the week). Isn’t making art worth missing a couple episodes of Honey Boo Boo or Jersey Shore? Of course it is…
Fourth: It’s impressive. Seriously—I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who say they’re writers, who have never, ever finished a book-length manuscript. Sure, they might have boatloads of dog-eared journals filled with thoughts and ruminations and navel-gazing free-form poetry. Sure, they may have written a few short stories or articles for the local paper. Heck, they may even have lots of ideas for book-length works and tons of notes: outlines, character sketches, scene breakdowns, timelines! But, they’ve never written the book. That means that even if you’ve written a bad book (and I can promise you that the first book you write will be bad; everyone’s is), so long as it’s complete, you’re still more of a ‘writer’ than the self-proclaimed writer who’s never bothered to write a book. You did something that many people dream of doing and never do, and you’ve got a finished product to show for it (relative merit of said product notwithstanding). At the very least, it’s a great conversation piece at parties—especially if offered as dismissively as possible, as if it was the easiest thing you ever did. “Sure, I wrote a book once…”
Fifth, and finally: It could change your life. Sure, there’s the obvious game-changer of writing a book as an idle fancy, finding out it’s brilliant, selling it for a million dollars, and finally living the life of leisure you’ve always dreamed of… but that pretty much never happens so I won’t even dignify it here. Even authors who seem to be ‘overnight successes’ or who ‘come out of nowhere’ have usually written two or three bad books that the world never sees before they sell their first good one. And selling a book doesn’t mean you’re on easy street: only four percent of the published writers breathing air in America right now make enough from their writing to live on.
No, I’m talking about something less exciting but more profound. You might find that it gives you genuine pleasure, a sense of honest accomplishment, and a deeper sense of pride and purpose. Maybe you won’t be good at it right away—but you might sense that you could be. And even if you’re never a master… damn, it felt good. It felt right. It felt like home.
Beyond internal epiphanies there’s the possibility of broader horizons. Maybe you’ll write that book and decide that wordsmithing isn’t your calling. Nonetheless, by doing something you’ve always dreamed of doing but never done before—and finishing what you started—you realize that you can do just about anything, if you simply make the time, learn the ropes, and do the work. Once you’ve learned that lesson, you can do just about anything: start a business; quit the dead-end day job and find another one that actually gives you some satisfaction; move on to a new art, like music or painting or photography; perfect your chili recipe or learn how to make mind-blowing cupcakes. The possibilities are endless—but you also realize they’re possible, because, at least once, you finished a seemingly impossible task that you set for yourself.
So what are you waiting for? If you’ve ever suspected you had a book in you, now’s the time to clear an hour or two off your schedule each day, hole yourself up in a small, private space, and start stringing those words together. Heck, National Novel Writing Month is November—you’ll be just in time to join the party and lay down your first 50,000 words! (Never heard of NaNoWriMo? Check it out here.)
Next time, I’ll offer Five Damn Good Books On Writing, to give you some wisdom and support in your new endeavor. Until then, I invite additions to the list above. Have you got an even better reason to write your book than I offered you? Share it!