I usually despise the millions of lists that clog the internet. There’s just too many of them.
“12 reasons why you get ignored by the opposite sex”
“17 ways to get more exercise”
“5 secrets to help you get promoted”
“9 lists that will help you write better lists”
But I’ve been thinking about why it’s so difficult to be a writer and, you guessed it, I’ve come up with a list of 6 reasons to prove my case.
- EVERYBODY BELIEVES THEY CAN WRITE – I can strum a guitar but I wouldn’t consider myself a guitar player. I can sing in the shower but I’m not a singer. I doodle quite often but I am not a drawer. Most people would agree with me on these statements, yet people also believe that since they know how to write that they are writers. This is not true. There is a significant difference between those who know how to write and those who write. Those who know how to write can construct sentences. Those who write can make those sentences read better. There’s a joke in the writing community that touches on this. There is a doctor and a writer and the doctor is giving the writer a check-up. The doctor, after learning the writer is a writer, says, “After I retire from medicine I’m going to do some writing myself.” The writer then replies, “What a coincidence, after I retire from writing I’m going to practice medicine.”
- EVERYTHING IN THE WRITING WORLD IS SLOW – It takes a long time to write something worth reading. Once it’s complete, it takes a long time to edit, review, critique, re-write, re-edit, re-review, re-critique, re-write again, and re-edit. If you are going through traditional publishing it then takes a while to find an agent, find a publisher, promote, and sell. The reason: Everybody will spend fifteen seconds of their life to look at a painting, most people will spend four minutes listening to a song, but to convince someone to read an eighty-five thousand word manuscript, and then convince about five to ten more people to do the same, takes a little something extra. Reading a book is a commitment, one you have to convince others to make.
- WRITING IS INCREDIBLY LONELY – If you sing or play an instrument or act you are usually doing this in front of an audience. You might practice by yourself, but the idea is that one day you will perform for people. A writer writes alone and then presents their work to other people (usually) when they aren’t around. And to write something significant takes a lot of time (see number 2) so that’s a lot of time spent alone. An illustrator can relate, although traditionally it takes significantly less time to paint a picture than to write a novel. To be a writer you have to be comfortable spending a fair amount of time away from people.
- WRITING NEVER GETS EASIER – If you practice guitar every day a year later you will be a better guitar player. Same with drawing, or singing, or acting. As a writer, you may become a better typer, or you may have a better idea how to construct a story or build characters or develop conflict, but you’ll still sit in front of your keyboard watching the blinking cursor and wondering what the hell it is that you are going to write. Technically illustrators also have the same creative problem, but it’s a much easier wall to break through (everybody’s heard of writer’s block, who has ever heard of drawer’s block?) Some may say the same is true for musicians but I don’t agree. Musicians play other people’s music, and if they write their own music than they are a writer as well as a musician, and it’s the writing that keeps them stumped. You can be a writer for fifty years and still feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.
- READING ISN’T POPULAR – Everybody loves music. Movies are a classic institution in America. Walk through any major city and you will see drawings, paintings, photographs, and pictures everywhere. But reading takes time and a little bit of energy, two things plenty of people don’t like to contribute. According to the National Endowment for the Arts only 75% of Americans read at least one book in 2012, down 3% from 2011. That’s 25% of Americans who haven’t read a book in over a year. Imagine if 25% of Americans didn’t listen to music or never watched a television show or didn’t see a movie. And as much as tablet reading has increased since it’s birth less than a decade ago, overall reading is down and will continue to slide as Americans deal with more daily distractions and time killers such as apps, constant internet connectivity, and 800 television channels (and counting).
- WRITING ISN’T SEXY – As much as Californication would like you to believe that a writer’s life is similar to that of a rockstar…it isn’t. Writer’s aren’t desired like actors or musicians are. In fact, if most people were walking down the street and their favorite writer was walking toward them, odds are they would never recognize that person. When you write you’re projecting your voice through words on paper and teleporting them into the future where someone will eventually read your words and interpret them into their own voice in their mind. But how is someone going to recognize you from your words only? Easy, they won’t. Unless you are an incredibly popular writer you will largely go unnoticed, and even if you are an incredibly popular writer, you will often go unnoticed.