Many, many, many years ago I stumbled across a little quote about writing:
A blank piece of paper is God's way of saying it ain't easy being God, but it's a helluva lot of fun.
I don't even know who wrote it.
I began writing, seriously writing, when I was about 11 years of age. Oh, I had written the usual juvenile stories before that, but I discovered romantic historical fiction -- especially classic swashbucklers via The Count of Monte Cristo and Rafael Sabatini -- in junior high and was hooked. I never had to worry about running out of stories as long as I could write my own.
It didn't matter then if I finished them or not. They were always books, never just stories, and sometimes I got bogged down after a couple chapters. Or I didn't know where the plot was going. Or I was just having fun with invented characters and settings and events and scenes.
The joy of it all was in the writing, the imagining, the creating, the playing God, if you will. And it was always a helluva lot of fun.
When I got a little bit older -- fast forward to age 15 and sophomore year in high school -- I began to contemplate the possibility of actually publishing something. We're talking early 1960s, so well before the huge boom in paperback historical romances, which started in the early 1970s. I read voraciously, and I wrote steadily. And I haunted the public library with its wonderful copy of Writer's Market, so I could write down the names and addresses of potential publishers.
Truth be told, I didn't even really know how to submit a manuscript to them. I knew about SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) and nice, neatly typed, double-spaced pages, but that was about it. Ironically, despite my love for historical romance, the first book I finished and began sending to publishers (all the wrong ones, by the way) was a contemporary mystery romance. And it wasn't very good.
But it was fun. It's always fun. The worst day writing is still better than just about anything else and certainly better than a day working, just because it's writing.
The world revolves around money and paid work, however, which is why I tried to learn to write better. I thought, gee, this is so much fun! If I could do it well enough to get paid for it, wouldn't that be terrific? So I began to read more, and read more critically. I discovered books on how to write, and I discovered writers' magazines. I devoured them. I practiced. I learned. I dreamed.
And I wrote. Always, I wrote. I wrote and rewrote. I shared with other writers. I got criticism and some of it I took. And I wrote some more.
It took a while, a long while, decades in fact, before I did finally write something that someone with the money to do it thought was worth publishing. Of course it was exciting! It was validation of a dream. There were no other viable options in 1984 when I sold my first book: You signed with a royalty publisher and hoped to sell a few copies to earn back your advance and maybe make a little bit more, or you sprang for a vanity press and pretty much gave your work away.
As a compulsive writer, however, and one enamored of the power that a blank piece of paper -- and later, a blank computer screen -- gave me, I never wrote for the market. I never wrote for anyone's pleasure but my own.
Is that selfish? Probably. But because no one could take that pleasure away from me, I also felt enormously free to share it. And in sharing it, in letting it go out there to perhaps brighten someone else's life, I made my own enjoyment of it all the greater.
The only thing that did lessen my enjoyment, my sheer unfettered glorious enjoyment of the writing, was having some stupid editor come along and change it into something else. Oh, I know, good editors are worth their weight in gold, but I never got one of those. However, I don't want to get sidetracked with those tales of woe. I just want to say that even lousy editors couldn't take the actual dream away from me. They could keep me from publishing, but that was never the real dream.
The real dream was always in the writing. My writing. My stories.
When I read about writers getting all upset about bad reviews and one-star ratings, I just shake my head and wonder what's the matter with them. They don't seem to enjoy the writing. They seem to think it's all about the money, all about the popularity, all about the ratings and rankings and where their cover is on the book page. They claim the book is their baby, but they treat it so abusively that I wonder if they treat their flesh and blood children the same way.
And ultimately it's always more about them the writers than about their books. Criticism of the book is taken as a personal criticism, and they just can't stand it. And that's a shame, because it tells me they really don't know what sheer joy it is to write just for the writing's sake and not their own. And they don't really want to improve their writing to make it readable for others. If they did, they'd know that honest criticism (followed by hard work) is one of the necessary tools for improvement.
There is a part of me that says I should walk away from it, away from all the drama and the whining and the silly accusations. Away from the bitterness and spite and pettiness. Away from trying to help writers become better writers so they can share their stories with readers and achieve the success they say they want. Away from trying to help readers find the good stuff and ignore the bad stuff. Away from trying to pay forward for all the lessons I've learned, the joy I've experienced, the mistakes I've made -- because most of the time I just get stabbed in the back (thank you so much, BK) or lied about or the truly laughable one: accused of jealousy.
There is no way, my dear friends, that I would ever be jealous of someone who can't write.
I am jealous of people who can play the piano, because I would love to, but I can't.
I am jealous of people who can paint beautiful pictures, because I would love to, but I can't.
I am jealous of people who can play baseball, because I always wanted to and I can't. (Someday I'll tell you how I forged my mother's signature on an application to be a Chicago White Sox bat boy....in 1960. And yes, that is a Luis Aparicio autographed baseball on top of my piano.)
I am jealous of people who can do all kinds of things I can't do, but I don't hate them for it. I am envious and jealous and admiring all at the same time, and I appreciate every bit that they share with me for my enjoyment -- for our mutual enjoyment. I plink on my little Kimball piano and I have fun, but I don't hate those who can sit down at a Steinway and play Brahms or Chopin or Smetana. I doodle when I'm on the phone, but I don't hate my friends who do oils and acrylics and pastels and create wonderful scenes and evoke powerful emotions with their art.
But I'm sure as hell not jealous of shitty writers.