Friendly Math: Why Everyone Wants What You've Written

Every writer I know wants to share what he or she has written, and the moment we share one piece of writing with one other person we become authors. But many of the writers I meet at writers’ conferences tell me they don’t feel like authors because they haven’t yet sold something they’ve written. The problem, they tell me, is that nobody wants what they’ve written. The more of these gloomy conversations I have with writers, the more I wonder if the real problem is just the opposite. Writers are people first, after all. Like a lot of people, I own a bunch of things. I like these things; that’s why I own them. I like my house and my car and my computer. I like the new pair of shoes I bought recently. Every time I put them on they please me. When I’m wearing these shoes, no one else can wear them. It’s just not possible. If I shared them with someone else, I wouldn’t have them to walk around in until I got them back.

Whenever I write a story or an essay, I always write about something I like. Actually, I write about something I love. Just as it is easiest to walk a long distance in a pair of perfectly-fitting shoes, so too it is easiest to write about what I love. As soon as I am done writing something I love, I want to share it with other people. I want to share it in much the same way I want to share a song I found on iTunes or a book I found at a bookstore. The only difference is that I wrote the thing I’m sharing and I might get paid to share it.

Some confusion can set in, however, when I go to share it. I know a story isn’t a pair of shoes, but there is an idea that’s been going around for about 10,000 years that goes like this: There isn’t enough. Enough wheat, enough gold, enough land, enough time. And everyone seems to want more of what there doesn’t seem to be enough. I have certainly felt some days that I didn’t have enough of what everyone wants. I don’t like thinking that I don’t have enough and that I’ll somehow have to scrabble away against all the other people to get my fair share, whatever precisely that is. It’s a friendless world, that.

Which is why it can get confusing when it’s time to share something I’ve written. Within me are thoughts of what shoes I’ll wear or what book I’ll read and or what story I’ve just written. I always want more of what I love, and I know the reading world is filled with people who want more and more and more of what they love too. If I believe for one moment we are all somehow in competition, I will tell myself it’s not ready to share, or no one will understand it, or there is no market for it, and try to protect something that cannot be lost.

Every reader will make a story their own. If they loved it, they will walk about with it in their hearts. Meanwhile, that same story will remain in mine as well. It defies the unfriendly math of a world in competition with itself, hording happiness in preparation for some end-time when it’s finally run out. Fortunately, sharing is how happiness grows, and as long as there are two people in the world, there will always be enough of it.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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