Merry Writer's Christmas

Riting iz easy

A while ago a distant relative of mine contacted me with some questions as to how he might go about making a living as a novelist.  He was not at that time a writer, but liked to read and thought it might be a good way to make a living.

I didn’t know how to respond.  The collection of assumptions–

  • that I am an example of a successful writer
  • that lots of people make a living writing novels
  • that one can just jump in, like it’s any other kind of career

–were so staggering I believe I was rendered speechless by the question.

How most of us keep going

The truth is, it’s very hard to write a novel, it’s even harder to write a good novel, and it’s very nearly impossible to make a living as a writer of novels.  It may be one of the least rewarding and most frustrating creative exercises in existence, with the possible exception of screenwriting.  (Not incidentally, I am also a screenwriter.)

Imagine spending anywhere from months to years of your life crafting an opus, and then spending another several months or years trying to get people to read it and/or publish it, and/or buy it.  The risk-to-reward tradeoff is so ridiculously small it’s a wonder why anybody even tries.

But we do try.  And the reason is, to be an accomplished writer– by which I mean someone who finishes written works– one must also be equal parts self-deluded and insane.

My annual mantra

My annual Christmas mantra has been “next year, by this time, I will be a published novelist.”  It was something that sprang from the disappointments endured in the past year– in which events that were sometimes ridiculously improbable conspired to foil a promising possibility– and the hope that a new lead/idea/project would work out in the new year.

Now, you know that this year I get to say something different, because Immortal was published in October.  What you may not appreciate is I said that same thing for a solid decade.  My past is littered with unsold novels, unsold screenplays, unfinished ideas, leads that fizzled out, agents that didn’t work out (and one that actually went insane), publishers that folded, opportunities that weren’t, and plenty of other disappointments.

But: I never stopped believing that one Christmas, I would get to say, “This year, I became a published novelist.  I can’t wait to see what next year brings.”  Why?  Because I’m fundamentally self-delusional.  Sure, it turned out I was right about this one, but if it didn’t happen I’d still be expecting it to next year.

Merry Writer’s Christmas

I never did answer my relative’s question about becoming a novelist.  But aside from the fact that he was self-deluded about the wrong thing– never get into novel writing thinking it’s a get-rich-quick scheme, kids– he was at least self-deluded about something, and that was a start.

It’s entirely possible to finish writing a novel or a screenplay or a short story and end up with something that is not good, but it’s almost impossible to finish one without the writer thinking it’s good.

So Merry Christmas to all you writers out there.  Embrace your convictions.  In a lot of ways they’re what make you a writer.

And if you’re not published yet, take it from me, a writer who has deluded himself into thinking he’s about to hit it big for a solid decade now: Next year at this time, you will surely be published.  Plan accordingly!


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No Comments

  1. WotV on December 20, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I, for one, am glad you are delusional.

  2. angelwilson on December 20, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Awesome post, and congrats on Immortal!

  3. Amanda Hoving on December 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Found you via pennyjars RT. Great post, and some solid inspiration for the coming writerly year 😉

    • genedoucette on December 21, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      Amanda– Thanks, I’m glad you found me!

  4. Mary on December 21, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I had a friend tell me “I need to make some quick cash. Tell me who you write for”.
    Your post pretty much covers my same reaction. I was especially puzzled by the part about “quick cash”. I’ve waited as long as 90 days for a $20 payout. And that was some of my better work.

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