Someone once asked me, “Why did you pick writing?” Without thinking I replied, “I’m not sure I picked writing as much as it picked me.”
Later, I realized there was a lot of truth in that statement. More than I ever realized.
You see, I don’t always like writing per se. I mean, I’ve been a teacher, a salesman, a surveyor; I’ve even delivered pizzas in college. (And as a pizza delivery boy I had my pride, let me tell you. Someone once tried to tip me a nickel. I refused to take it. I mean, a nickel? C’mon!) Hell, I’ve cut brush with a machete from sunup to sundown and dug ditches in hard Oklahoma clay. That really sucked.
On the other hand there are aspects to writing I absolutely love. I like doing research, planning characterization and figuring out plots and such. But the physical act of sitting down at the keyboard is without doubt the least interesting aspect of this profession to me.
Even today, after all these years as a professional writer, I’m certain digging ditches is often easier than writing. But, despite how difficult writing can be, I always get some measure of satisfaction from it. Even when I’m struggling with a story that doesn’t come together or doesn’t sell, I still feel it was worth trying in the long run.
Several years ago I was 90,000 words into a science fiction novel when I finally admitted to myself it sucked. But I thought the time I had spent working on it was worthwhile. I didn’t always have that feeling after surveying five miles through frozen swamps and sloughs in Kansas or West Arkansas in the dead of winter for Texaco.
Even at the best of times writing is a lonely experience. It’s very internal. So why would I keep wanting to do it, and putting myself through this grinder?
The answer is simple. Because there’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do, even as a young boy. Oh, I wanted to be an astronaut or fireman or what have you when I was little. Like every other kid.
It was tough going when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I remember in eighth grade when I knew, I knew, I wanted to be a writer and nothing else. My history teacher decided to kill time one day and ask each of us what we wanted to do when we got out of school. The conversation is as fresh in my mind now as if it happened yesterday:
“Mark, what do you want to be?”
“I want to be a writer.”
“A rider? Like riding horses….?”
“No, a writer. I want to write stories for people.”
I got a perplexed look and he moved on to question someone who, in his mind, probably had higher aspirations.
When I got home that afternoon my parents asked me what happened in school that day. I told them my teacher had asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I was excited about this because I knew, I knew, this was what I wanted to be, and I wanted to share.
“So,” my parents asked, “what did you say you wanted to be?”
“I told him I wanted to be a writer.”
Without missing a beat my father said, “There are enough writers in the world already. We don’t need another one. You’ll have to pick something else.”
That was all the support I ever got from home. But, despite that, I never lost sight of my goal. It took a long time, and a lot of hard work, and a really long learning curve. But I finally made it .
And now, after all these years and stories and whatnot, there are still words inside me demanding to get out. I have to admit…I kind of like it.