The secret about secrets is that they like to hide in the open. It’s kind of like being a fugitive on the lam — you’re best off hiding in a city among a lot of people. This may sound counter-intuitive, but there’s no better place to preserve your anonymity and go unnoticed (not to mention find the basic necessities of life) than in a teeming metropolis. So it is with fundamental truths, such as the meaning of life, or the secret of success. They were discovered millennia ago, and are all lying in plain sight, openly available to us. They expect us to walk right by them, and we typically do.
That is my convoluted way of saying that I’m finding no real surprises in my writer’s journey thus far. Everything I’ve encountered has all been chronicled and foretold by those scriveners who have preceded me, especially the battle-scarred journeymen and acolytes who have truly struggled and suffered. It’s all down there in black and white (or other garish colour combinations adorning a million web pages) — the loneliness of the work, the episodes of self-doubt, the necessity to exercise self-discipline and write constantly, the certainty of rejection, the requirement of having a literary agent, the need to ignore critics and believe in yourself, the shameless hucksterism required after the book is published.
One other truism I’d encountered countless times, but only now truly appreciate, is that writers don’t write because they want to, they write because they have to. It’s a compulsion, pure and simple, and not necessarily a healthy one at that. How do you know if you have it? Try not writing, and see what happens.
Admittedly, there are rewards, but not the ones you might think. It’s certainly not for the money. The truth is, as virtually any fiction writer will tell you, writing is a laughably ill-paying job. Oh, sure, there are best-selling authors who have hit the jackpot, but the distribution of wealth in publishing appears to match that of the world at large, with one per cent of the writers earning 99 per cent of the money. The vast majority of published fiction writers cannot actually earn a living from their craft without some sort of supplementary job.
So why do it? Some might think it’s a kind of ego trip, but most practicing writers have had that sort of excessive pride walloped out of them long ago. Personally, I find the real reward is more zen-like — crafting something that might pass as art, the satisfaction of a story idea coming to fruition, and immersing myself in a mental activity that requires my full concentration.
Oh, yeah. And getting to hang onto my sanity for a little while longer.