“It’s not about money, if it were we wouldn’t do it.”
An article I read recently described writers’ frustrations when achieving few book sales despite sometimes great expense and wide promotion. The author included an example of a book with thousands spent on it and which sold one copy. While much of the piece was well thought out, useful and informative, it completely ignored any other reason to write, culminating in ‘building a business round the book’. The implication was that selling books was the only worthwhile reason to write, otherwise don’t bother.
So what happened to all the other reasons to be creative? Here’s one that’s frequently ignored: it’s good to be creative, good for the creator and good for society. That premise used to be widely accepted, just as learning was considered a good thing. Now we are told to be suspicious of knowledge, of learning, of reason itself. Fake facts and alternative truths undermine scholarship and deny experience. ‘Truth isn’t truth’ will be a fine epitaph for this age we live in.
Even if book sales are zero, even if the story doesn’t get published, the pleasure of creation can be immense. Every writer (and other creative, I’m sure) knows that it’s never pure pleasure from start to finish, very often there’s what seems like regular torture in there too. But without a little sweat and a few tears, where’s the salt in our stories?
That sense of creation is very good for you, study after study shows how important it is to both physical and mental health. Google ‘therapeutic value of creativity‘ and read the evidence. My main interest is writing, but it’s true for every kind of creative endeavour from pottery to sewing, from music to flower arranging.
Most writers I know have another good reason to write: they have a story to tell. A storyteller tells stories, right? Obvious. If you have a story to tell and don’t tell it you aren’t a storyteller.
The best advice I ever heard for a writer is a single word: write. It’s nowhere better expressed than where I first read it, in The Buddha, Geoff and Me by Eddy Canfor-Dumas, in which the would-be writer remains just that until he understands that the moment he actually writes he will become a writer and he can move from there to being a better writer.
Writers are lucky. We get a blank page and an infinite number of words and can put them in a gazillion different sequences. We can even make up new words. At any point in the process we can erase, change or add anywhere we choose. I could never have been a sculptor.
There are less good reasons to be a writer and the most common is the pot of gold at the end of the Kindle rainbow. Today anyone can write and be published. That’s good. But to be motivated only by the idea of wealth from royalties will distort your writing and almost inevitably lead to huge disappointment.
Recent info from Just Publishing Advice suggests there are close to fifty million titles on Amazon and a new Kindle title every five minutes. It’s a very tough place to get rich on royalties. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hope to earn something from writing, you certainly should and good luck, but don’t let it be the motivator. There are better reasons to write and they’ll make for better writing.
Coming soon in Reasons to Write Part 2 – readers, honing skills, expanding imagination, becoming a great writer and the false god of fame.