To Write or Not to Write

duelHere’s an argument that’s probably waged for centuries – since writing has existed as a (for the want of a better word) craft.

People who aren’t writers don’t understand the compulsion writers have to write. Writers often don’t understand why non-writers don’t get the compulsion.

There’s points to each perspective.

This week, I thought I’d look at both sides of the page, in an attempt to answer the question …


To Write or Not to Write

Writing’s not about riches. It’s not about fame. Sure, it’d be great (for most) if those things happened, but it’s not why we write. Most outsiders (non-writers) don’t understand that. They see only the lack of dollar signs, and question why anybody would bother with writing. Where are the rewards? It seems (to them) like such a great waste of time.

But writing isn’t like a hobby, although it might be pigeon-holed as one for those who have to work a regular job, and/or take care of a family, and/or run a household. It’s about reaching deep down into ourselves and producing something that only we can, that is unique to us individually.

Because this is why we write: to share our stories with a greater audience. Whether you’re working on a novel, or memoir, or researching the mating rituals of iguanas, it’s about communicating to a readership only something we can offer – as well as being only something we can offer in the way we offer it.

We do this for a number of reasons. It’s cathartic, to produce something from within ourselves, if not a continuing reinterpretation of self and a method to make sense of the world around us, or (of) a particular time in our lives, or just a particular subject.

If we don’t do this, if we don’t write, we feel bottled up. Energy and creativity simmer until they overflow, and affect our equilibrium within the everyday world. Things don’t seem quite right. Non-writers wouldn’t understand this, equating it with putting any other hobby on hold. Like stamp collecting. Stop collecting stamps for a month or two, and it’s no big issue, is it? (With no disrespect intended to stamp collectors.)

Writing doesn’t work like that. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we are. And – as begrudgingly as some of us might admit – regardless of whether we ever achieve fame, whether we ever garner riches, whether we ever even are published, it’s who we need to be, now and always.


Because it hurts. You get rejected over and over and over and over, and that’s if you’re lucky. It’s like somebody kicking you in the crotch, waiting until you get up, and then doing it again. Even if you develop a thick skin, you never quite get used to it. In getting rejected, it’s tantamount to somebody telling you, ‘You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough’ over and over.

Writing’s also one of the few industries where it’s not always a case of the harder you work resulting in the luckier you get. You can be the hardest working writer in the world, and it can be all for nothing. Nor is it about talent. It’s particularly galling when you see crap published (and it does get published). Often, what it comes down to is subjectivity – what some editor or publisher likes.

Even if you do get published, what does it mean? It’s gratifying, yeah, but so few writers survive exclusively on their writing. There’s no money in it unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling or somebody of that magnitude. For most, it’s a hobby to pursue after attending their real job. The output versus reward scale is grossly disproportionate. You’d be better off investing in lottery tickets bi-weekly.

Then there’s the pain of it all – sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen, what do you think that’s doing for your back? For your neck? For your eyes? What’s it doing for your social life to be isolating yourself, excluding yourself from human contact? You may as well become a leper. At least lepers get to ring a little bell. Writers get to suffer from stuff like anxiety and depression.

And why wouldn’t they? Living constantly in their heads, constantly putting their characters through turmoil, empathising with conflict and heartbreak. What other job asks you to get yourself in a headspace where you need to imagine misery and loss and torment? For what? For some astronomical hope that you might get published?

It’s just not worth it.


So on which page do you fall?


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