Writing Sucks. Don't Try It.
by David Boyne
At the Café
I was sitting in a café, writing.
But 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.
I was mindful of the many people around me in the café writing on their laptops. But I could not keep from groaning, “Grrrarrrggghhh!”
Some 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 laptop.
But 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?”
I 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:
I would have earned three times as much in half as many hours squirting ketchup on hamburgers at a Burger King.
Was 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 American society?
I 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.
“No one buys my books because there are so many other books to buy!”
I 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!”
Each of them arched an eyebrow. Three of them blew air out their nostrils. Then all of them went back to writing on their laptops.
As 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 write.
I wanted to scream.
But 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.
On the Road
My friends! My fellow writers!
I 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.
I bring to you a message of the utmost and mostut importance.
WRITING SUCKS! DON’T TRY IT!
Do not waste your once-in-a-lifetime Life as I did waste mine, always writing, writing, writing.
Do 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.
Oh, 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.
At best, writing is a Sisyphean struggle. And at worst, it is a self-inflicted waterboarding.
All 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.
I beg of you, save yourself. When the temptation to write rises within, just say, “No!”
Raise your arms heavenward and shout your eternal promise for all to hear:
WRITING SUCKS! I WON’T TRY IT!
At My Desk
For 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 it.
For 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?
While 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.
The 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.
When 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
Then came the revolution. The digital-internet-ebook revolution.
With 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.
A few 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 theirs.
Yet it was not until the recent morning when I sat in the writer-filled café that Truth® and Understanding™ fully blossomed within me.
I get 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 books.
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:
WRITING SUCKS! DON’T TRY IT!