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Crazy thing about writing is the amount of ink spilled over how to be a writer, how to write, how to publish, and so on. I’ll sum it up: You want to be a writer? Don’t. Seriously, that’s what every one of the people I’ll be talking to for this book has said. That is what I tell school kids when I do a presentation, professionals who network a coffee for some advice, and casual people at last call who want to talk about their terrific idea for a story.
I wonder if it’s the same in all art forms? Let’s break it down to the essence of online wisdom and compare Writing and Dance advice. So what’s harder? Ballerina or Writer.
This is the first in a series of Artist-to-Artiste smackdowns. At the end of the article, I hope you agree that Keyboard-clackers should act like Twinkle Toes, and vice versa. Please note that the articles quoted here refer to writing novels and fiction. Screenwriting is even harder–because there are only a couple of hundred movies made a year out of thousands of registered completed scripts. I’ll have to check my research, but I recall a comparison stating it was easier to get into Harvard than to sell a screenplay. Even writing ad copy has gotten to the point of more out of work writers than those gainfully employed.
And yet we write. Or want to be a writer.
First, the page one, first ranking for a Google search for: What’s it take to be a writer.
Lawrence Watt-Evans’ took some time a few years ago to spell out a likely scenario for all aspiring writers wanting to earn a living. It’s from 1999. As I said in my email to Larry asking permission to quote liberally here, why re-invent the wheel when he nailed it. Warning: it’s accurate.
So you want to be a writer. Why?
It may disillusion some of you; if so, good.
If you think getting a book published means riches and fame, think again.
Now, the Google search for: What’s it take to be a dancer?
This is the top ranked link. It’s pretty generic, kind of written like a 12-Step list of Affirmations. Read them while looking the mirror, maybe that helps. The first line says it all:
You Must Believe – A successful professional dancer believes they will make it, no matter what anyone else in the world thinks. You must believe you can do it.
You Must Persevere
You Must Have Confidence
You Must Work Hard
You Must Handle Rejection Well
In the How to be a Writer, well, not exactly courage-building:
First, let’s consider time and money.
Let us suppose that you needed a year to write your first novel.
It’s roughly one page a day, six days a week.
So how much are you going to get for that year’s work?
A typical first-novel advance right now seems to be running around $3,000. (1999 prices; current figures not much more for first-timers, if anything.)
Not real good pay for a year’s work, is it? To earn out a the advance you need to sell 10,000 copies.
And you’ll be known to 10,000 readers in a nation of 250,000,000 people.
Rich and famous, huh?
The advice for the aspiring dancer gets at the heart of it, the love of it:
You Must Have Strength and Stamina
You Must Shine on Stage – A successful professional dancer is also a crackerjack performer. A lesser dancer who is an exciting performer will always get the job over a bland dancer with perfect technique.
You Must Strive to Prevent Injuries – A successful professional dancer makes injury prevention a priority. If you have a big dance audition on Monday, think twice before going on that ski trip over the weekend. Do not give in to eating disorders.
The How to be a Writer just gets another tongue-lashing:
How many authors can you name? It’s like being a pro ballplayer. Just because you’ve gotten past the try-outs and been given a chance doesn’t mean you’ll make the big leagues, let alone become a star. Plenty of players spend their entire careers in the minors, playing to tiny crowds for inadequate pay.
And be aware that when you’re a pro writer, it’s not all glamor and glory. Mostly it’s sitting in front of a computer writing the next story, the next book–if you ever stop producing, you’ll fade from memory pretty quickly.
Practical advice, and realistic expectation are presented to the dancer:
You Must Find a Flexible Day Job – Get a job with flexible hours so you can attend auditions at the last minute or anytime of the day.
You Must Audition… Go to every audition and open call, even if you are not “right” for the part. Every time you audition, you get better at auditioning.
You Must Take Unpaid Dance Jobs – Take every legitimate dance job available to build up your resume and make contacts, even if the job does not pay.
You Must Keep Training – Take classes, especially in the types of dance you are weak. Sometimes dancers must sing. Take voice lessons and consider acting lessons to work on “connecting with your character” and improving your performances.
The solid, professional advice for How to be a writer is wielded with a billy club-sized pen.
So suppose you sell a novel, and it’s published, and you’re all excited.
Neighbors who ask, “Is it in the bookstores, or do I have to special order it somewhere?”
Family members who ask, “Am I in it?”
Relatives who say, “That’s very nice, dear, but why didn’t you write something worthwhile, instead of this silly science fiction stuff?”
Strangers who tell you, “Hey, I got a story you should write about, my cousin Bruce, he’s a stoker on a tramp freighter, now that’s what you should write about!”
People of every sort who say, “Gee, I always wanted to be a writer, but I never had the time,” as if all it takes is a few weeks of free time. Or, “Gee, I have some really great ideas, but I can’t write; tell you what, how about if I tell you my ideas, you write the stories, and we split the money fifty-fifty?” As if story ideas are the hard part–they aren’t, ideas are cheap and plentiful, it’s turning them into stories that’s tough. And if you have a book published, aren’t you going to be on Oprah or something?
The fact that there are more than eight thousand books published every year in the U.S., of which at least seven thousand remain obscure, isn’t well known, to put it mildly.
Ultimately, both lists get to the point. You write, you dance, you create because of something inside you. Not something the world gives you for doing it.
The rewards of writing aren’t as obvious as money, fame, or respect; they’re more internal than that. They lie in knowing that you’ve created something–a world, a story, characters and places and events–that never existed before. In knowing that you’ve entertained a few thousand people.
If that’s what you want, then go for it–write that novel!
If that’s not enough, if you want riches and glory–well, friend, then you don’t want to be a writer!
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
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