Samuel Johnson once wrote, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money.”
Well, excuse me, Mr. Johnson, but in today’s market you have to have more than money to drive you along if you are willing to invest the time necessary to be a professional writer.
Someone else wrote, “The process of writing is similar to pounding your head into a brick wall. It feels so good when you’re through.” Oh, that was me.
And then there’s the famous quote from sports columnist Red Smith: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is open a vein.”
As I mentioned in an earlier column, writing can both easy and the most difficult thing you have ever done. There have been days–few and far between, admittedly–when the words seem to flow like melted butter and I feel like I can do no wrong. And then there are times–like when I was writing Not My Son, Lord, about my son’s traumatic brain injury–when it felt like I was literally reopening old wounds.
So why do it? Why have I spent the past 40 years writing? Good question, and you might be surprised by some of the answers.
(1) I write for money. With apologies to Samuel Johnson, I make very little money writing. And tax laws aren’t very kind to freelancers. One year I think I made about $2,300 writing, and had to pay $1,500 in taxes. You could say, there oughta be a law, but that’s the problem. There is, and it ain’t in the writer’s favor. Writing in the Adventist market, and even in the Christian market, has never been, nor ever will be, a moneymaking enterprise. But I continue to hope that someday I might make enough to let my wife back off on her work and spend some time at home. It’s a faint hope, but it’s not the real reason why I write.
(2) I write because I can. I’ve spent several decades honing my skills as a writer, and now I actually have people coming to me, asking me to write for them. That’s a far cry from the days when I had to badger people to read my stuff, and I had a wall covered with rejection slips. So if I can help a magazine out by writing an article or story for them, I am happy to.
(3) I write because it helps my other career. I’ve wanted to be a writer all the way back to high school, and my studies at college and the jobs I took were to (1) pay bills and support a family; and (2) give me opportunities to write. So while I was grinding through the years of learning how to write, I was working as a public relations assistant, a newspaper editor, a book editor or a magazine editor. Now, as a university professor who teaches writing, it helps my credibility to show students that I can get published, especially when I am encouraging them to do the same.
(4) I write because it is what I am. I know. I said earlier that a writer is what you do, not what you are. But if you are serious about writing, you can’t escape identifying yourself with that livelihood. When I surrendered myself to Jesus Christ in a cow pasture in Bogenhofen, Austria in 1972, my surrender gave me a new focus and helped really understand who I really was. To a lesser degree, writing does that as well. But as I have also said earlier, it’s not enough to have the skill to write. You have to have something to say. That’s where belief comes in.
(5) I write because I have something to say. When I was in college, I saw an advertisement that changed my life. It was on the back of Insight magazine and read: “I want Jesus to come back in my lifetime.” Ever since I read that, I have taken that on as my goal in life as well. How I go about that has varied, but the goal has never changed. I went to a Seventh-day Adventist high school and saw most of my class leave the church right after graduation. There must have been a reason for that, I thought, and realized that the church needed to change. And it was a lot easier to encourage change from inside an organization than outside the organization. That has led me to gain a reputation as an agitator, a moniker that I actually like very much. Jesus loved everyone he came in contact with, but he also wasn’t afraid to shake things up. And considering how long we have already been on this world, it appears a lot more shaking up is in order.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog for several days now, and am at a crossroads. I could probably dredge up other technical skills that come with the writing path. But I think I am going to take a break and come back soon with another topic. Any suggestions? Who knows where my Muse will take me. In any case, I appreciate your willingness to read my words. Take care.