I read yesterday that it takes the average writer ten years to build a platform. Ten years to build a solid readership. Again, on average, but still, that’s a long time. Two things came to mind:
- Anybody who gets into this industry for quick bucks is in for a rude awakening
- We must be crazy to do this. Seriously.
Yet thousands of us throw ourselves against the wall each year. Thousands of us at varying places in our careers and varying skill levels. I can’t help but ask: why do we do it? I don’t have a polling sample handy, but some of the answers that I’ve heard?
- “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.” (This one applies to me)
- “Something that I read inspired me.”
- “It seemed like something I was always denying.”
- “It just seemed like fun.”
One of my personal favorites is from Stephen King: “People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy… and I keep it in a jar on my desk.” As good an answer as any, I say.
Clive Barker‘s answers are a bit more nuanced: “I don’t find myself terribly interesting and that’s one of the reasons why I write in the mode of trying to escape from the coral that is me. The removal of the limitation that is the self into the place that is the image are things that are boundless, this is the mystical heartbeat of what I do. It’s always been that.” Escape from your boring self, I can understand that. He also said: “I write out of anxiety and obsession, I write out of hope and passion. I don’t write out of stale marketing ideas because someone paid me a million bucks.” Similar reasons, I think, both borne out of a dissatisfaction with self and one’s state of being. I could see that.
The New York Times did a great blog piece asking students why they wrote, and some of the answers are pretty great:
- Because I am a spider and words are my silk. This morning I balloon into your feeds
- 2 get 10 years worth of stories out of my head.
- Because I sound smarter when I write than when I speak.
- I write because writing is crack, and I’m an addict.
Of course, I’m sure those people looking for a quick buck are out there, but they have absolutely no reason to admit that. I don’t even judge them for it, hell, if they think they can do it, more power to them. Even better if they do.
While “I’ve always wanted to” is my own answer, deeper thought reveals that it’s not the whole answer. My original hope was to be an artist, either drawing or painting. I started trying to transform the things that I saw in my head into art at a very young age, but I also saw very quickly that I just wasn’t skilled enough to make it. I never had a steady enough hand, and probably never will. That didn’t stop me, though, at least not at first. I tried to turn those stories into graphic novels, but I was never quite able to capture it. Still, I continue to have a very visual imagination, and when I write a story, I picture it as a movie playing out in my head, complete with chosen camera angles.
So in my case, digging deeper, the reason is because I have a very active imagination that I want to express to the world. I want people to see what I see, and my initial approach failed. Writing is now the best way that I know of to do that. Oh, I also enjoy evoking emotion in others – that’s a lot of fun.
Yes, I’ve wanted to be a write since I was young, but it’s been a secondary choice. I’m lucky to have talent in it, I guess, and that I enjoy it so much. I don’t even miss the idea of painting or drawing anymore.
Thankfully, I also don’t have a problem with the idea of a ten-year window for readership. That time is going to pass regardless, whether I’m building a readership or not, and I’m going to want to write anyway. Might as well go with the flow.
What about you? When you dig down deep, what are some of your reasons for doing it? I’m curious – if it’s something that you’ve done from childhood, what drove your hand there? Was it because of the stories you wanted to tell that you saw in your head? Or was it something else? I’d like to share your answers in a post someday in the near future.