Heard somewhere or other recently: “There are two kinds of people in the world. Writers, and those who are never heard from.”
Well, I thought first, that seems kind of pretentious. And mean. Then I thought, and it’s wrong, first because there aren’t only two kinds of people no matter how you divide them, and second because it’s just wrong. Writers aren’t the only people you ever hear from.
Painters, dancers, photographers…you hear from all of them, if not in words. And it’s not just artists you hear from, it can be anybody. Especially today, when shouting out to the world is just a matter of typing on your keyboard–case in point: “Hello.”
So what is it about writers that they have to be heard? I mean, if you ask any writer, the real reason he writes is because he can’t not write.* (I suspect painters and dancers and such feel the same way, but I can only speak to writers.) And why is that? I mean, for writers it’s not a matter of, “Hey, I can post on Facebook and everybody can read it and I really am here!” For writers, it’s a need to express their ideas (whether deeply philosophical or highly entertaining) –and to do it over and over again. Preferably for pay.
Maybe that’s it. Do writers go through years, sometimes decades, of constant, crushing rejection and criticism (neither of which ever ends), just because they want to get paid for what other people put on Facebook and Twitter for free?
Only if they’re complete idiots. The chances of ever making even $100 a year writing are about 1-in-1,000. And given the chances of making any real money? Please. Writers may be masochists, but they aren’t stupid. They aren’t in it for the money.
So why do they do it? Why do I do it?
Same answer. Because I can’t not do it. I guess it’s because we’re readers first, and we grew up wanting to emulate the people who created such wonderful worlds for us to play in. I started writing in grade school. I don’t even remember why, what sparked it. But I must have liked it, because I didn’t stop, and somewhere along the line it became the thing that defined me.
Which may explain why writers are nuts. We are defined by what we cannot do: We cannot stop writing. We can’t stop when we can’t sell anything, then we can’t stop when we do start selling. If anything, it’s harder when you actually taste some success. (Must be all that money…)
If someone were to figure out why we do this, and write a self-help book, he’d probably sell a copy to every writer on the planet. But until then, maybe there are two kinds of people in the world:
Those who like to write things, and those who just can’t stop.
*Or “she,” obviously.