In recent years I’ve changed some of my early notions about writing. Here are some revised thoughts.
Money – Samuel Johnson said, “No one but a blockhead ever wrote for anything except money.” I used to agree with him, primarily because writing was how I earned my living. I stood in awe of big-money writers.
I was wrong. Money is only one of many good reasons why people write. Other motives include retaining one’s sanity; capturing life by putting it on a typed or handwritten page; pinning down vague or unruly feelings by the use of precise words.
Writing as a career – In the past I sometimes advised young persons to avoid careers in writing. Although I enjoyed most of my own career (if you can call it that), I soon learned that the supply of writers is always greater than the demand. Our economy does not reward writing, nor does our culture esteem writers. Many years ago a Hollywood mogul said, “A writer is nothing but a schmuck with a typewriter.” That attitude has not changed much over the years.
Even so, today I would say this to a 20 year old who thinks he/she might have a future in writing: “Go ahead. Give it a try. Earn a living at it, if you can. But don’t just play at it. Work hard. Don’t dream about writing. Sit down and do it. Write (and read) as much as you can. Find good editors who will point out your mistakes as well as your strengths. The English language deserves to be honored. It is a magnificent tool with which you can do remarkable, worthy things. Give it your best.”
I wish someone had said that to me, although it might not have made any difference. My early mentors were city editors whose literary counsel was this: “There’s a factory fire on the east side. You’ve got an hour to cover it, write it up and give it to me in six paragraphs. Get a move on.”
Writers workshops – I once regarded writers’ conferences as gatherings of pitiful wannabe novelists and poets, most of whom only talked about writing without actually performing the scut work. Even today I’m not sure I was completely wrong about that. But now my attitude is: So what? What harm is done by letting people come together and listen to professional writers give encouragement and advice?
A well-organized writers workshop typically overflows with hard-nosed practicality (which most writers need plenty of). It is a place where lonely word-lovers can meet, exchange ideas, form friendships. A writers’ conference keeps hope alive.
I took up writing as a way to escape heavy lifting. I have succeeded in that, and I’m glad. But if I had it to do over, I’d try to choose more serious topics. I would be more angry, impassioned, committed to noble causes. But who’s complaining? I’m just grateful there’s a market for froth and the frivolous.