Pixar’s animated movie Ratatouille tosses around the slogan, “Anyone can cook!” The story dramatically plays with this slogan, putting a rat inside one of the most prestigious restaurants in Paris. For our quick reflection, I would like to modify the slogan so that it says, “Anyone can write!” Certainly many people feel that way. If we haven’t thought it ourselves, we’ve all heard friends say they have a great book idea, that they too could be bestselling authors if they only just had the time to sit down and write.
But that simple (and not so simple) act of sitting down to write is one of the biggest hurdles, investing the hours, days, weeks, months, and sometimes years hammering out that story word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter–learning the elements of story structure and dialogue, inciting events and conflict, characterization and imagery. Such writing is not easy, despite popular opinion. Without even getting into mastering the craft of writing, we face so many distractions in our world today, so much noise from television to talk radio to podcasts to gaming apps. How many would-be books have been scuttled by web-browsing, the latest free game for Apple or Android products, or the time-consuming task of filtering through email? Then there are the serious concerns of maintaining a car or house, finding a means to pay your bills, and keeping up with your family or social commitments.
Steven Pressfield has it right in The War of Art: so many things contribute to undermining the writing process. He clumps them all together and personifies them in a force called Resistance. Speaking as one with experience, he describes the internal battle most writers face–doubts that the time investment will ever bear any fruit, and discouragement when others suggest that you have lost your mind and should get back to a real job (which pushes you back into your own doubts). The writing life does become a journey of self-discipline, and there are many setbacks, particularly to those who spin lofty goals. The voice of temptation is loud, and those who do commit and come through with a finished product on the other side have accomplished something.
But then there is the task of finding readers. In the olden days, authors would look for agents with insider connections in the publishing world or would try to catch the eye of an important editor at a publishing house. Of course, these outlets are still open, but because the traditional book market has been shrinking, these relationships are even more difficult to establish, even if you have a quality product. The burgeoning world of digital books has become the magic answer for a number of writers, some rushing their books to print without the level of editing they should have employed. Yet like eBay, which once was a place where you could find a good deal, the digital market on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Apple Store has become even larger, with much fiercer competition. Authors have to employ “free” or “99-cents” tactics, along with enticing book covers, to draw in readers.
So for each book, there are several hurdles, from actually investing the time in writing the book to the painful process of editing to the tedious steps of getting the book ready typographically for print to the daunting task of finding the right cover art and design to the lottery-like business of finding readers. To make a career out of writing, one can’t just stop at one or two or three books. One must have a long range plan and think more in terms of fifteen to twenty or more, and then as in all business ventures, there are no guarantees.
If you find someone who has made some success in writing, you should congratulate and encourage that person for his/her hard work, while also being aware of the role of the whims of fate, or the designs of Providence, in that success. This journey is not cut out for everyone, and it might be a project of sheer lunacy. I apologize if this comes off as a rant, but I intend it as an appreciation, and I am grateful for your reading. If I’m still here in five years, it won’t be without the support of people like you.