Will You Die Before You Are Published, and Does It Matter?

Let’s face it, everyone wants recognition, many want fame and fortune, and a few want power. But for the majority or writers, we write to EXPRESS ourselves––cheaper than therapy, better than solitude––allowing us to find peace in an otherwise conflicted world. Am I wrong?

The sad fact is that so many people are writing and submitting that it does, to some degree, mute out your efforts. That is not to say you should give up, but that you should be aware you are a writer-addict in a world filled with writer addicts. But ignore that for now. 

We all ackowledge that the old axion: “If you build it they will come” is bullshit. You live in a time of a zillion screaming voices, each trying to drown out the next. That most latch onto some popular idea and try to rework it to their own besteller, is irrelevant. You are not in competion with them: You are only in competition with yourself. 

Who knows the next flavor of the moment? If you recall when STAR WARS came out it was immediately followed by a few hundred bad sci-fi films that hoped to ride on the success of the first.

Philip K. Dick, an author I enjoy, died while writing. He lived in a time when quantity was required to produce enough of an income to survive. Back then pay rates were terrible and many authors had to share books (Ace Doubles) just to get in print. As a result Dick required large amounts of medication to allow him to churn out volumous works. Only one novel was made into a film before his death at age 53 of a massive heart attack: Blade Runner (or more accurately: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). He never lived to see the finished film, although he did see early versions. But since his death, most of his work has been in demand, resulting in a windfall for his children/estate.  So far we have seen: Minority Report, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, to name a few, with more on the way. And let’s not forget the immenselve popular Amazon series of The Man in the High Castle

I often wonder what Dick would have thought about all this. 

As I write,  am reminded that I write for my sanity. I write for the exorcism of the demons within that need to come out. I write to make sense of this crazy world and the crazy and crazier people I see as time passes. And I write so that my children have a piece of me that transcends our parent/child roles. In this way I am a success. 

The rest would be nice, but quite honestly, when I watch the farce-award shows and the actors prancing around as though they invented penicillin, instead of just pretending to be someone else, I am reminded that life is about reality and that writers live in that realm, even when they write fantasy. 

And so a better question may be: “Will you be upset if you die before you are a successful published author?” 

What I have learned after decades in the business is the following:

  1. Write what you care about, not what you think may be a success. 
  2. Write because it keeps you sane, and free of psychiatrist couches.
  3. Write because whether you are successfull or not, you leave a legacy behind. And who knows how your work will be received after you are gone.
  4. Write because you leave a posterity for your own family, one that they will treasure. 
  5. Write because it sets you apart from a fundamentally illiterate society. One day, they may look upon your words as that of a Godlike figure. Someone might even form a religion out of it. God-forbid!

So in summary, it does not matter whether you reach stardom. You are the pilot of your own life and, so long as you do not starve, you should write if the compulsion to write is there. Like Richard Dryfus’s character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, compelled to make Devil’s Tower in Wyoming out of mashed potatoes, and his back yard dirt, you are a writer because you are compelled to be one. 

And honestly, that is the best reason of all.

Write on!

~William

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