The premise itself is simple enough.
Perhaps you want to do it because nothing else will make you happy. Perhaps you intuit without any equivocation that you have some kind of inherent need to write, and you’ll feel wretched without putting pen to paper and channeling thoughts and pathos through the sonic strength of words.
Whatever the case may be—even if the above doesn’t apply to you, but you don’t mind reading about it—the implications thereof are worth discussing.
On some level, deciding to try one’s hand at making a living off belles-lettres isn’t all that much different from the struggles undertaken by musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and anyone who dares to try and pay their bills through creativity.
The medium is, of course, different.
Where Common conveys narratives through syrupy-smooth rap verses and Picasso blazed trails with paint on canvases, the writer’s only means to express a vision of the world are words on paper—or, thanks to the developments in our digital age, on an LCD screen.
In any case, a writer has no background music to buttress his or her communiqués other than the sound and structure of the same words used in these transmissions. Where visual artists can appeal to sight, and sometimes touch, in order to communicate with an audience, the writer’s only tool in engaging the five senses of their audience are words.
Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
There’s ample room to stage a discussion on the metaphysical force behind these combinations of phonemes and letters that we use to communicate ideas and emotions. For now, suffice it to say these abstract entities without which our communications would be void are a writer’s only means of transmission.
Suppose you are bold and mad enough to give this lifestyle a shot; it then remains to be seen whether you deal in verse or prose.
If you opt for the former, will you be composing sonnets or elegies? Will you stick to a meter, or, as is common in our day, employ “free verse?” Will there be rhymes in your lines that can both mesmerize and be analyzed? Will it be stylistically innovative and unconventionally bold, or emulate the meditative flow of Robert Frost’s cold?
If you go for prose, will you compose novels, novellas, short stories, plays or essays? Will your narratives be driven by plot or by character? Will you explore the minutiae of common people’s quotidian lives or analyze grand, overarching ideas with universal appeal? Will you do the latter by operating within the scope of the former? And why are you compelled to do so in the first place? What can your narrative explore that goes beyond the range of exploration of an article or short essay?
Once all these avenues have been explored, and one’s correct path chosen, the most crucial and important part of the writer’s task begins—the actual writing.
Someone who knew a little bit about this process once remarked:
“I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work, it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”
In my own limited experience producing short fiction, I’ve learned there’s grueling work involved in producing even a single piece that can be deemed publishable. One must write and rewrite several times over before the words employed finally have their desired effect on a reader. Having an editor to review material is invaluable in this process, but it will be a brutal process for the writer either way.
Suppose you have the patience and tenacity to go through all these ordeals. Suppose that after endless configurations of words, you finally have a well-structured piece that others have read and enjoyed. You want to get it published.
You will face plenty of rejection. On some level, publishing houses don’t so much care about the quality of writing as much as its potential to sell thousands of copies. J.K. Rowling would probably be treated better than Anton Chekhov by any publisher.
Even if you do get published, there’s no guarantee that your product will do well enough to make a living on. In all likelihood, you will need some kind of day job while you do your writing at night.
But there’s no shame in that. Legend has it that Kafka composed The Metamorphosis in a single night of fervor before returning to work at an insurance company. As he gathered experiential material for his landmark novel, Hopscotch, Julio Cortázar worked at a bookstore and took other odd jobs in Paris while meandering around the Pont des Arts.
If none of the ordeals outlined thus far have halted your quest to make it as a writer, then by all means, go for it. It’s unlikely that anything else I write here will stifle your literary ambitions.
And I imagine that’s because, as I noted at the beginning of this piece, the premise is simple enough, and you’re mad, and nothing else will do.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Nick Daw’s Writing Blog.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.