Do You Want to Be a Writer, or Do You Want to Write?

There is a difference. The first is an ambition, the latter a disease.

In the long run, it doesn’t much matter what your motivation is. Motivation is motivation; it’s just a matter of how strong it is. People who want to be writers are generally charmed by the idea of being famous, or working from home, or imagining Jolie and Pitt being cast in the big screen versions of their books. I encountered a lot of them in my college fiction courses. A few are writers now. Most of them, however, went on to become doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs, once they discovered how hard writing was. And that was before they learned how lousy it pays.

People who want to write, however, have it a lot harder. Doing something else is a much more difficult option. I know, because I did something else for a long time, and spent most of that time wishing I had more time for writing, despite the fact that (as of this writing) I have yet to earn as much in seven years of publication (note that I am not including time spent before publication) as I earned in my first year as a banker. And first year bankers didn’t earn any more than teachers back in 1983.

If you want to be a writer, but aren’t yet afflicted with the disease of wanting to write, my advice is to run, now, as fast as you can, for the hills. Find something else to do before it’s too late. Bricklaying. Pest extermination. Sewer work. Anything, just as long as it pays. If you can’t help yourself and still want to write, my advice is the same. Just make sure you have the extra energy to get up every morning to write at the crack of dawn, or spend every free minute after dinner at your computer instead of watching Jersey Shore with your spouse.

And that your spouse doesn’t mind.

Filed under For Novelists, learning to write, writing life. You can also use to trackback.

There are 12 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Jessica Meats

    Your warning comes too late. I’ve already been infected with this disease.

  2. 2. Georgia Jones

    OH NOOOOOO….I feel the doom and despartity surging through me as I feel the same urges and needs in day to day life. It is too late to run and hide from my muse. She seems to always hunt me down and whisper in my ear. It is a constant desire to write. Have a great day Stephen. Good Article.

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    Thank you.

    Now couldn’t you have done this seven years ago when I talked a lot about (but did very little) writing?

    To date: I have three completed, (or at least coherrent and workshopped) manuscripts, been through two writing groups, (yeah, I already have the ego) been jerked around by two agents, and my first MS is on a buying editor’s desk.

    If I don’t sell it by December, I’m going back to school, cause if two degrees get you a state job and limo sideline, a third degree would have to be the winning lotto ticket, right?

    I’ve been telling my Mrs. that for three years and she hasn’t put me on the bricks yet. So my only real critique of your “timely” advice is moving the understanding-spouse bit to the top.

    Kidding. I totally appreciate everything you typed. Getting struck by an idea, getting scared (stuffless) by the prospect of writing it, agonizing/revising to get it right, and the “pop” of a peer saying, “that doesn’t suck,” is like chocolate-cupcake-sex-crack addictive. I absolutely love it.

  4. 4. L.B. Gale

    This really hits the nail on the head doesn’t it?

    I have to say though that for me it’s not always either/or. I love writing and I do have the sense that writing is worth it on its own, whether or not I’m published and ‘famous’ and Brad and Angelina star in the film adaptation.

    Having said that, there is no doubt that I harbor the more ‘shameful’ or ‘shallow’ ambitions to see my name in print and receive recognition (both monetary and intangible) for my work.

    Nonetheless, I’m not willing to stake it all on my writing career eventually paying off, so I have taken the day job route. I wake up every weekday morning extra early, get a certain amount of words done, come home and read and start over the next day. I’m in no rush…

  5. 5. S.C Butler

    L.B. – I was trying to avoid commenting on the relative merits of one motivation or the other. I don’t think it’s shameful or shallow to want to see your name in print and get a little financial recognition for your work. It’s human. Artists in garrets aren’t noble. They’re just starving.

  6. 6. Dawn

    I am diseased. Is there no cure? What ever shall I do? //dramatic pose//

  7. 7. Elias McClellan

    @Dawn, no, there’s no cure. Only treatment. The first step is admitting you have a problem. So, congrats, you’re half way there!

  8. 8. Sandy

    I am shackled hand and foot to this curse. There isn’t even a window to stare at and dream of wealthier pastures. It it too late for me. Save yourself while you still can.

  9. 9. Elias McClellan

    @Sandy, what are you writing? Dickens? My protag is everything I’m not, bucks-up, fit, good looking, though I am a better dancer and snappier dresser. Go figure.


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Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.



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