It’s hard to talk about what it means to be a writer to other people who are not writers.
Because most of the time, they really, really don’t get it.
When you tell someone who is not a writer that you’re writing a book they usually ask one of these types of questions:
When’s it going to be finished?
Is there a market for that sort of thing?
Do you think it will make money?
Are you going to quit your day job?
Then, some of us take the time to patiently explain that:
We’re not sure when it’s going to be finished. Books take a long time to write and it’s hard to say how long this particular book will demand that we work on it.
We don’t know if there’s a market for “our sort of thing” but also, we don’t really care.
The chances are slim that we will make any significant income from it.
No, we can’t quit our day job. In fact, now it’s kind of like we have two jobs, because we’re still working our day job and now we’re devoting most of our evenings and weekends to writing as well.
If you are a writer who explains all of these things to a non-writer, that person will usually look at you in shock and confusion, which isn’t all that surprising. You just basically explained that, for a writer, the hours are long, the pay is low, and the outcome is wildly uncertain.
So, it’s not that odd that most people cannot understand why we do this thing called writing.
But writers are not most people. Most people are driven by external reward—money, status, the tangible assets of security like health insurance, a company retirement plan, and predictable working hours. While these things are nice, and a lot of writers do work day jobs to keep these sorts of benefits intact, these are not THE things that drive writers.
A writer is a whole different animal from the average person.
Writers are driven by their vision, pure and simple. We see worlds and ideas that others cannot see until we write those realities into being for them. At the deepest level, we are passionate about moving the human race forward in some way, whether that be through a YA sci-fi/fantasy novel or a nonfiction book on how to improve life through better nutrition. We spend thousands of hours of our lives crafting and perfecting sentences in order to touch the hearts of others and get them to think about something we feel is important—essential even—to their growth and evolution.
Most other people do not find toiling over a manuscript for weeks, months, and sometimes years, enjoyable. But for writers, there is no better way to spend our time. We might bitch and moan and commiserate over social media with each other through funny memes that show us pulling our hair out or crying on the floor with a bottle of whisky, but at the bottom of it, we love what we do. For us, there is no greater feeling of triumph than figuring out the impossible ending, or discovering the character we always wanted to write, or shutting out the outside world and getting lost in the world we’ve created instead, inside our own minds.
This is what it means to be a writer.
We sacrifice everything we have to do this thing. The higher-paying job that would give us less freedom to write, time spent with loved ones, hours we could be relaxing by the side of the pool on the weekends, and maybe most importantly, sometimes our sanity. Because we don’t float along doing this writing thing with rock-solid confidence and resolution, knowing that we’re on the right path. More often than not we question everything about our choice to be a writer. We feel isolated and alone, full of fear and self-doubt, and not at all sure that it’s actually going to work out in the end.
But we do it anyway.
Because this is what it means to be a writer.
And if we stick with it over the years, if we stick it out and just keep scribbling and typing away, we start to get used to the questions from those other people who are not writers. We start to learn how to smile and nod and not waste our time on explanations. Because they won’t get it, and we know that now, and that’s all right. We don’t need their approval, or their understanding. We’ve grown now as artists and we know that very few people can ever fully grasp the motives of a writer’s heart.
Except for other writers.
If you are a writer who has experienced the loneliness and frustration that comes when other people don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, reach out to another writer today and offer them a little encouragement. Contact a writer whose book you loved on social media and tell them how much you loved it. Find the energy to write that review for a writer who you know needs it. Do whatever little bit you can, right now, to support your writing community.
Because no one else gets it. It’s a hard and lonely road for writers and, sometimes, our writing community is all that we’ve got.
Do what you can to make the road a little easier for someone else.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Between the Shadow and Lo, an autobiographical novel based on her experiences as a raging alcoholic in her 20s. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers. She currently lives in San Francisco.