Writing Sucks. Don't Try It.
by David Boyne
was sitting in a café, writing.
for the 7th time in two hours, I interrupted my writing and used my
laptop to obsessively-compulsively check if anyone anywhere in the
world had purchased one of my books for sale on Amazon.
mindful of the many people around me in the café writing on their
laptops. But I could not keep from groaning, “Grrrarrrggghhh!”
guy looked up from his laptop. So I squinted at my computer screen
and silently moved my lips, as if reading over the dialogue of a
character in my story. He bought it, and resumed writing on his
my mind, like a Jack Russell terrier ripping apart a smelly sock,
would not let go of the question, “Why, why, why doesn’t anyone
buy my books?”
tried to return to writing, but on impulse I opened an Excel
spreadsheet and spent the next 15 minutes totaling the royalties
received from sales of my nine books. I then carefully divided that
number by the hours it took me to write those books. And I arrived
at the irrefutable bottom line:
would have earned three times as much in half as many hours
squirting ketchup on hamburgers at a Burger King.
it my writing? Did people stay away in droves from my books because
the writing was oafish? Its grammar gnarly? Or could it be the
covers? Did prospective buyers find photos of my golden retriever
not alluring—but amateurish, maybe even flat-out stupid? Was there a
causal relation between anemic sales of my books and the total
absence of any professional marketing or promotion, beyond the
inebriated midnight Tweeting and Facebooking of my observations on
clicked over to the Kindle section of Amazon.com, and as I stared at
the tip of the iceberg of the more than 1,000,000 books that could
be bought with one click—enlightenment whacked me upside the head.
one buys my books because there are so many other books to buy!”
realized then that I had spoken aloud, way aloud. But I was pumped,
and I glared right back at the half-dozen people glaring at me over
the tops of their computer screens. It was to this hostile audience
that I first dared to announce my newfound Truth®:
“There are too many %$&*#@ writers in the world!”
of them arched an eyebrow. Three of them blew air out their
nostrils. Then all of them went back to writing on their laptops.
fate would have it, a thin young man, dressed in baggy shorts and
flip-flops and wearing the smugly self-absorbed, self-involved smile
that is the permanent makeup covering a writer’s face, sat down at
the table across from me. He opened the lid of a laptop. He began to
wanted to scream.
there, on the backside of his laptop, right below the glowing white
apple with the bite taken out of it, I saw a long narrow label. Like
the best bumper stickers, it carried an emphatically black-and-white
message from The Universe:
SURFING SUCKS. DON’T TRY IT.
friends! My fellow writers!
appear before you (metaphorically), dressed in my white button-down
shirt, black slacks, shiny black shoes, and riding a cheap bicycle
too small for me—because I am a man on a mission.
bring to you a message of the utmost and mostut importance.
WRITING SUCKS! DON’T TRY IT!
not waste your once-in-a-lifetime Life as I did waste mine, always
writing, writing, writing.
not fall prey to the hubris of believing you can write just once or
twice, for recreation, for the experience, and then walk away from
it, spiritually unscarred. You must practice abstinence. For the
only safe writing is no writing.
how writing sucks. Let me count the ways.
Writing is lonely; for a writer spends many hours of her
once-in-a-lifetime Life sitting alone and staring at blank paper or
blank computer screens. The only time writers experience a sense of
being connected to and part of a like-minded and like-experienced
community is during their Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous,
Debtors Anonymous and Weight Watchers meetings.
Writing is also messy, with all those drops of blood forming on a
writer’s feverish forehead.
best, writing is a Sisyphean struggle. And at worst, it is a
that pain and suffering, and for what reward? Writers are poor! They
have unfilled cavities and empty IRAs. A writer’s inbox and
voicemail overflow with shady offers from debt consolidation
companies and cut-rate bankruptcy attorneys.
of you, save yourself. When the temptation to write rises within,
just say, “No!”
your arms heavenward and shout your eternal promise for all to hear:
WRITING SUCKS! I WON’T TRY IT!
so many years it had perplexed me. Why did every successful writer
in every interview I had ever read, watched, or listened to have the
same message? They all said how difficult, how demanding, how
demeaning, how demented, how degrading, and how utterly
disheartening it was to be a writer and to write. They were all
broadcasting the same distilled message: Writing sucks. Don’t try
so many years, I wrote nearly every day. However, unlike the famous
writers being interviewed on radio, television and the internet,
nothing I wrote ever saw the light of anyone else’s eyes, but for a
few slush pile laborers and junior editors. Could my being
unpublished and unread explain how my experience was at odds with
the hell these famous writers warned of?
I would not say I was a happy writer, I did enjoy the work of it.
The end product was almost always frustratingly shitty, but the
work, the process of writing, felt good. It was a lot like when I
would drag myself to the gym and get on the elliptical, feeling old,
tired, fat, and stupid. But, magically, 15 sweaty minutes later, I
would be breathing easy, with my muscles warmed and relaxed and
strong, and my thoughts no longer as sluggish and halting as
afternoon rush hour traffic. As I exercised I would think, and most
of my thoughts were about writing. And those thoughts about writing
projected onto the movie screen of my mind would be engaging,
enticing, even exciting.
routine of working at writing gave me a deep-down sense of
self-reliant wellbeing. By writing almost every day, whether I had a
good, bad or ugly session, I was unconsciously affirming a belief
that people are meant to spend as many moments, minutes, hours and
days as they can of their once-in-a-lifetime Life doing what they
most passionately want to do—whether it is writing a personal essay
or squirting ketchup on hamburgers at Burger King.
we do what we most want to do, it is a joy. Even when it’s not. It
is a journey, our journey. And this journey may even be the only
good reason why we are here for however brief a time.
Come the Revolution
came the revolution. The digital-internet-ebook revolution.
no clue that I was about to change my happy anonymous writing life
forever, I assembled a dozen of my essays into a Kindle book, called
it Happy Accidents, and uploaded it to Amazon.com.
days later, someone somewhere on earth bought a copy. The next day,
someone else bought a copy. Then, in one mind-rushing day, five
someones around the planet each bought a copy. Not one of them was a
relative, lover, or friend.
Weakling that I am, even this puny level of success changed me,
corrupted me, and ruined me. Although it takes me a year to sell as
many books as Stephen King, Dan Brown, or Stephenie Meyer sell in 13
minutes, I became every bit as obsessed with my sales as they with
it was not until the recent morning when I sat in the writer-filled
café that Truth® and Understanding™ fully blossomed within me.
it. Now I know what all those famous writers were doing, telling
their interviewers how miserable it was to write and to be a writer.
The fewer writers there are, the fewer books there will be. The
fewer books there are, the more likely readers will find and buy MY
Recently, a blog for aspiring writers interviewed me. And I stepped
up and took my place in the secret chorus, shout-singing the
low-down gut-wrenching soul-wasting blues of being a writer and
WRITING SUCKS! DON’T TRY IT!
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