I was once told if my name wasn’t Stephen King, Michael Crichton, or John Grisham it was impossible to make money writing books. Now, before you snap back at me with a list of other authors who’ve found financial success and stardom for writing, I know. (Fun fact: J.K. Rowling is the only author to make $1 billion from writing). Their point was, writing is hard and often fruitless – and this true.
So, why do I do it? Why do we spend countless hours spilling our heart onto the page if the odds of making enough money to support ourselves, or our families, is against us?
If you ask a medical student why he wants to become a doctor and he may reply, “to save lives.” Ask a military recruit why she enlisted and she may reply, “to serve my country.” But ask a writer why he writes and you won’t get an all-encompassing answer. Some do it because they’re looking for an outlet for their creativity. Others do it because they need to escape from the reality of day-to-day life. Some do it because they need to leave behind something they’ll be remembered for.
So, why do I want to be an author? I’ve been asked this question a lot recently which has made me do some introspection and recollection of my past. I’ve thought about how I could summarize the answer but being a storyteller I think it’s best if we take a little journey through time and you learn a little bit more about me.
Kick off your shoes, grab a beer and snacks, and get comfy; we’re going back to the 90s!
At some point in everyone’s life, they begin to think about what they want to do for the rest of their life. For some people, who’re really talented and gravitated toward one activity at an early age, it’s an easy decision. For others, it’s an arduous internal struggle. I was the latter.
Growing up, I never fit into just one group of friends or clique at school. To use a sports analogy, I like to think of myself as a utility player in the game of life. I played baseball and soccer, was in a science club and pulled all-night LAN parties, was a member of the chamber choir and drama club, was an Eagle Scout and loved playing Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.
I had friends in every social circle and enjoyed hanging out with them equally. Having a diverse set of interests is great, but when I hit that moment when I started thinking about the future, and what I wanted to do for a living, I had the startling realization that I was really good at a lot of things, but I wasn’t interested in any of them enough to make a career out of it.
To make things worse, I felt like all my friends had that one thing they were really good at and wanted to pursue in college. So, what does someone who has no idea what they want to do with their life choose to pursue as a career? Physics … duh!
Okay, I’ll explain my thought process. The first thing you need to understand is: I was a huge Star Wars nerd growing up. Second: One of my biggest fears, when I was younger, was departing this world at the end of my life and no one remembers my name. So, naturally, I decided the best way to immortalize my name was to create the first fully-functioning lightsaber! How was I going to do it? Physics!
To be honest, I had no idea at the time if Physics was the right field of study to pursue but it sounded smart. Don’t worry, this desire to construct a lethal sword of light was short lived and immediately fizzled once I realized how much math was involved in real science.
You might be wondering how I went from physics to literature. I knew I’d never be a real scientist and I’d never create the first real lightsaber, but I also knew stories like Star Wars, Star Trek, and other science fiction titles influenced scientists to create many of the technological wonders we take for granted every day.
Like most writers, I was a child with a rambunctious imagination – I once randomly told my parents I was an alien and explained how my spaceship was a small green orb which landed on my mom’s pile of peas on her dinner plate; she conceived me after eating it. I think I was eight when I told her that story.
With an imagination like mine, I quickly came down from my delusion of scientific exploration and knew my real calling would be in creating stories filled with alien worlds, advanced technology, and scientific principles which would, hopefully, influence someone more scientifically advantageous than me.
All through high school, I overachieved on every creative writing assignment I was given. As a freshman, I wrote a short story mirroring Homer’s Oddessy, focusing on Odysseus’ best friend Jax who set sail looking for the king after he never returned from Troy. As a senior, I wrote an alternate version of the Battle of the Titans, using my favorite authors as the Gods and my teacher’s favorite authors as the Titans.
In college, I studied literature and creative writing. I learned a lot about classic writers like Thoreau, Hemmingway, and Dickins. I also learned a lot of rules about writing. Ironically, the more I learned, the more I doubted my ability to write well. By the time I was finished with school, I still had the same amount of creativity pumping out of my brain, but every time I tried to put my thoughts down on paper, I was haunted by crippling self-doubt.
For years, everything I wrote ended up in the trash.
Nearly a decade after school, I still hadn’t written anything creative, but my ideas for stories continued to accumulate in my mind. The worse part was, deep down inside me, the need to create something to leave behind some sort of lasting legacy still ate away at me. I’d reached my thirties and still had nothing to show for it – the thought of failing made me depressed and killed the desire to write even more. It was a vicious spiral of self-deprecation.
I’d go long stretches of time without writing a single word. It wasn’t until my son was born that I decided I really needed to focus on my writing and complete at least one book. It sounds corny and cliche, but I felt like I needed to pursue my dream so I could encourage him to do the same.
I had the outline for The Historian already completed but I decided to rework it and make it better. I spent my nights, after he was asleep, plugging away at the paragraphs until I was too tired to keep going.
The doubt I felt always hung in the back of my mind, but I carried on as best I could. Some nights I’d write several pages, others I’d struggle to write a single paragraph, but every night was a step forward.
The doubt was like an anchor holding me down and making it difficult to advance, but I had a much needed mental breakthrough when I discovered an old high school magazine which had published one of my short stories. The story was awful, but after reading it I remembered how much I loved telling stories.
It was at that moment I decided to throw my worries about writing the perfect story out the window. I no longer cared if my story met the “requirements for a great story” my teachers engrained in my head. I wanted to write books because I love stories and I want them to inspire people. Sure, I’d love to find some financial success with my writing, but if I can inspire one person to pursue their dreams or create something to help their fellow man, then I’ve accomplished my goal.
This is why I write.
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