Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Write?

I was recently a guest blogger at the Writer Beware blog (I blogged about exploitive practices in the American theater targeted at playwrights), and in the comments section somebody asked me why I continue to write plays when the chances of success are so exceedingly slim (and even successful playwrights have to deal with exploitive practices and miserable contract terms).

Here was my reply to that commenter, verbatim:
"I think my motivation to write plays in spite of the odds is the same as my motivation to write fiction----because I have to. If I didn't write, I would go insane. I honestly think that the only people who should pursue writing as a career are the people who have no alternative but to write in order to maintain their sanity. If you have any other possible means of making your living, don't become a writer. There are far easier ways to make a living, believe me. I wouldn't advise anyone to pursue a career in writing, simply because it's a career with a 99% failure rate."

I've been thinking about that response for several days now. Why do I write creatively full-time? I could make a lot more money doing what I used to do in the corporate world (which was still writing---it just wasn't writing what I'd otherwise choose to write). Even with top agent representation and multiple book contracts, it's not exactly what I'd call a comfortable living. I work long hours, meet tight deadlines, and wait forever for my royalty checks. I get beat up in the press. My neighbors look down their noses at me when I tell them what kind of novels I write. Other (less successful) writers ask me point-blank when I'm going to give up this whole erotic/romance fiction thing and write something "serious." I get insulted by my fellow Chicago playwrights---I was even kicked to the curb by Chicago's foremost playwriting organization, who told me my work was no good. (And yet, I get lots of play productions in New York City, theater capital of the world---which I don't get to see since I can't afford the days of child care or expensive hotel stays required to leave my suburban home behind for three or four days to see my work up on its feet in NYC). All of this for a paycheck that's a tiny fraction of what I used to earn. Why do I put myself through this?

Quite simply, because if I didn't write, I would go insane. Or perhaps more accurately, I'm already insane. Because only an insane person would choose to write novels and plays full-time. Sure, lots of people like to talk about how they'd like to chuck their cushy jobs so they can write the Great American Novel. But people who do that have no idea what the writing life is really like. If they did, they'd never dream about doing it full time. Being a full-time writer is a real bitch sometimes. It's the hardest work you'll ever do, for the least amount of money. Sure, the Stephen Kings and John Grishams of the world are sitting pretty with their millions of dollars and fleets of private jets. But most of us are just getting by, hoping our current release will sell enough copies for our editors to pick up our next option book, hoping to get a tiny increase in the next advance, hoping that this time around, I'll actually get paid something for that play production in NYC. And all the while, we just smile and nod when one of our relatives walks up to us at a barbecue and says "Oh, so you're a writer, huh? How's that working out for you? (chuckle) When are you gonna give that up and get a real job?"

I already have a real job. It's just a job that sucks sometimes. The old chestnut that all writers are crazy is true. Because only a crazy person would take a job that pays less per hour than most people in the Third World make in a month, has a 99% failure rate, and means public scrutiny and journalistic insult for the 1% of us that do succeed.

Just check me in to the loony bin, folks. Because I love every minute of it.

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