Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Makes One A Writer

Anybody can write a book, no?

Sure, anybody can type enough words to fill up a standard-sized bound set of pages.  

But as anyone who has stuck it out can second, the initial inspiration is just the place from which you start. 

The psychological aspects of writing are such that most people who continue on in the process are probably garden-variety crazy.  I mean, here’s a job description for you. Wanted, worker who will:

1). Set grandiose goals, with some insane notion of actually realizing them

2). Work all hours, especially those in the dark of night when some idiosyncratic character quirk wakes one from a peaceful and much-needed sleep, demanding to be immediately jotted down or risk the horror of being forgotten

3). Remains willing to work in complete obscurity for long periods (months into years) before anyone sees the first word

4). Can tolerate an even much-longer time frame before said product is introduced to the public

5). Answers all the gleeful questions of “Oh!  You’re writing a book!” from well-meaning friends and relatives with a simple, “Yes.”  

6). Can tolerate the litany of down-the-nose looks from that same group when said book isn’t a bestseller, or hasn’t even seen print, years later

7). Responds to repeatedly being humbled to the knees by rejection with perseverance (okay, so this is a bit idealistic. Insert infinite hours  of self-doubt and whining before perseverance, but only to oneself and closest friend:)

8). Realizes that those in the business end of the profession (agents, editors, the sales department, reviewers) consider said workers to be a dime a dozen, and that the former and they alone are the sole reason that books sell at all

9). Can endure # 8 without at some point on the meandering journey throwing overripe rutabagas at the above (considered, while humorous to competitors and often colleagues, to be exceedingly bad form)

10). Works well with rejection/criticism ratio to pats on the back of 100:1.  Okay, if one is lucky!

11). Can completely distance oneself from the idea of writing and making a living being said in the same sentence

The list could continue into the next millennium, but we get the picture! 

But the reason real writers put in the seemingly hours of learning and doing and fighting the market is a different thing entirely from striving for fame (although that too has its appeal), or fortune (okay, so one does learn quickly that there is no glamor in poverty). The answer comes from the same place that some folks run racehorses rather than raising Hereford cows. It’s all about being compelled to strive for a flash of beauty; a brush with greatness. To grasp for a thing that if just for a second is bigger and grander than you; to want a blanket of roses more than beef on the table.  It’s about dreams that won’t die. 

It’s why we do what we do in spite of all odds, braving those looks and swallowing rejection. And, it’s why somewhere as we speak, in some lonely little room, someone out there is producing greatness. 

With this latest release, award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has five traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:



  1. Thought-provoking post, Susan. The hardest part for me, in the years powering up my fiction craft toward publication, was not how slow it went for me—because I was doing what I loved and goal-oriented about it—but how slow it seemed to others.

    My mother was ready to see my novel on a shelf one month after I was finished drafting it. Christmas cards got harder to write, as "Still working on my book" segued immediately into updates on this kids. Get-togethers with friends, although infrequent, focused on all their news, since mine was "Still writing. Still submitting." The guideposts that meant something to me—attended more conferences! revised again! more personal rejections!—just don't translate well into the language spoken by non-writers, it seems.

    Now that my book is in production things are happening so fast it seems it's all I can do to keep up—yet outsiders say, "It won't be published until 2014? Why on earth would it take so long?"

  2. LOL, Kathryn, I could so relate to your comment. You are right about those who don't write not understanding the process and how long it can take.

    Susan, I always find some inspiration in your posts. Thanks for giving writers a boost.

  3. If writing isn't as necessary to your well-being as breathing, you're probably not going to cut it. If it's about selling and becoming famous, you're probably not going to make it. We write because we can't NOT write. (And I know editors don't like double negatives, but I'm a rule-breaker from way back).

    Terry's Place

  4. "We write because we can't NOT write." So true, Terry. When life interferes with my writing time, I tend to get real snarly.

  5. I almost qualify for the job ... but I could not, in all honesty, adhere to #2 ... sleep ... beautiful, delicious, succulent sleeeeep, always comes first ... zzzzzzzz.

  6. I agree, Terry. On the bright side, we can now write, publish, and promote our own books and skip a lot of the rejection part if we follow the "road less traveled". Well... maybe not less anymore. I'm guessing the balance between traditional and self-publishing is shifting quite a lot. I love knowing authors who've had traditional success and are now dipping their toes into self-publishing. That seems to me to be the ideal scenario. Christopher, how can we get your humor onto the front page of the blog, rather than here in the comments? You absolutely crack us up!

  7. LOL, Kathryn! I know that drill well. This biz is so confoundedly slow! And to those outside the biz . . .
    And absolutely Terry. I'm fond of that Rilke quote, "Ask yourself in the dark of your night, MUST I write . . . "
    As we all watch publishing's balance shift, as Dani said, so many of us are dipping both ways :) I'm thinking of putting an old published novel out again as an e-book.
    But first, Christopher, I'ma take a nap!

  8. It is a masochistic endeavor. The only people crazy enough to keep at it are those that truly love it and would rather write than watch TV, play World of Warcraft, or knit, or paint, or ______.

  9. This is exactly what happens and the things said are real too. The hard work ,the rejection,the holding back, the smirks of the everyday-person who says ,"you write but what do you do for a living?" The answer for me is; "Would you like to write a book?"

  10. The questions people ask when they hear I'm writing a book vary from expected to downright bizarre. One relative of husband asked if my husband was the ghost writer. I'm sure he meant well (maybe?) but that sure was insulting!

  11. If you write for any reason other than the love of it first, then you can be pretty sure your knees will be chopped out from under you...

  12. This has been an interesting discussion, and I agree with Dani that some of the anguish we faced before, when traditional publishing was the only option, has changed. Thank goodness there are more options for writers today.

  13. Write because we have to? Yes.

    Write because the world we create works better than the one we live in? Perhaps . . .


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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