I’ve Always Wanted To Be A Writer (but I’ve never written anything)

Why do people want to be writers, when they’ve never written anything?

A friend attended a writing workshop at the local library recently . The room was packed. The speaker asked, “Who here is writing?” Six or eight hands went up. “Who here has never written?”  A hundred hands went up.

It’s said that eighty percent of all adults want to be writers, which is sort of  surprising. You never hear people say, “I’ve always wanted to be an accountant” or “I’ve always wanted to trade bonds”  (unless that’s what they’re currently doing.)

I run a writing group, and I noticed this same pattern. Most people who apply to the group  have never written anything.

“I want to begin a book… possibly.”

“I have a great story idea and I’m seeking a co-author to write it.”

“My goal is to just start writing.”

“I want to finish the book I’ve barely started.”

“I would like to start a blog and eventually write a novel.”

“I want to create concrete plots and characters, and actually put ideas on paper.”

“I need to stop procrastinating and start writing something.”

I’m not unsympathetic, but why would someone want to be a writer if they don’t write? I wouldn’t want to be a computer programmer if I didn’t code, and you never hear people saying, “I’ve always wanted to be an accountant” or “I’ve always wanted to trade bonds” (unless that’s what they’re already doing.)

I expect it’s not about money. While aspiring authors will say, “I want to write a bestseller and make a million dollars”, writing is one of the worst paid professions out there. In the words of a seller on the eBay message boards, “I’m making less than minimum wage. If I wanted to make real money, I’d go to Honduras and pick fruit.”

My daughter Rachel nailed it – The desire to write is about immortality. It’s not about the million dollars, it’s about writing a bestseller and having other people care about what you had to say.

There are few ways to live on after we’re gone, other than by having children. Our best shot at immortality through things we make lies in the creative professions: artist, photographer, writer, poet, inventor, scientist.

Writing is different from inventions  or scientific discoveries  or photography in that much of the writer’s thoughts and personality becomes a part of writing. Even art, which is highly personal, doesn’t capture the artist’s thoughts to the same degree that writing does.

Whether we’re writers or not, we want to write because it can make us immortal.

Do You Have Stories In Your Head?

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”  Lord Byron

Writers are more similar than different, no matter what their type. One thing we all seem to have in common is that all of us have stories in our heads.

Example – Downton Abbey

The day after Downton Abbey aired the episode in which Mr. Green assaulted Anna, the lady’s maid, I got a note from my sister, “Write a fanfic about Downton Abbey.”

“That’s not my fandom,” I wrote back, but then it occurred to me, I could just jot down the story that had been in my head when I woke up that morning. I penned a short scene, about three pages in length, and sent it to her. (published as “A Police Matter” on www.fanfiction.net.)

“You have stories in your head?” She sounded surprised.

“You don’t?” I asked, equally surprised.

I could remember being about two years old, standing in my crib and composing stories about animals.

“Don’t you ever give a movie a different ending or fill in the gaps for a TV show?” No, she didn’t.

I asked my other sister. She also said no. That wasn’t what I expect to hear. Both sisters are creative. One had gone to art school, and the other took creative writing classes. I asked my dad if he had stories in his head, and he said yes. That made sense, when we were small, he told fantastical stories about our future selves having fabulous adventures in an imaginary jungle. There was one in which we escaped from a gigantic python by feeding it the rotten food from our backpacks. All three of my children,  elementary school students, have stories in their heads. My young daughter writes hers in a composition notebook. I was so proud! Until I read her stories and realized she’s killed more people than Cecil B. DeMille. 

I asked people at work if they had stories in their heads. It didn’t have to be anything sophisticated, just a daydream about a character in a book or how a show should have ended differently. Some did and some didn’t, in equal numbers. But when I asked people in my writing group, like Eleanor’s shark teeth, they all had stories in their heads.