I think it’s safe to say that the number one question a writer gets is: Where do you get your inspiration from? 99% of the time this question is asked by a non-writer. It’s asked by someone who sees writerdom as another subset of the human species. For writers, we know the answer to this question is, well, pointless. Inspiration is relative. Some writers treat their work as a craft, others wait for inspiration, and even more are ritualistic. Inspiration is everywhere: smells, life changes, standing in the checkout at the supermarket. (Hell, just looking at the covers of the celebrity magazines could spur a crazy character or plot.) The real question people—writers and non-writers alike—should be asking is:
Why did you become a writer?
I read an article recently about why someone chose their profession—a non-writing field. It’s interesting, no? What compels someone to hoist their sails and journey in one direction for their career when there is a sea of opportunity and many nice private beaches to walk barefoot (or naked) on? I’ve answered the question about why I started writing this blog, but I’m curious: Why did you become a writer? Please share in the comments and email me directly telling me why for a new series featuring writers of various specialties and their reasons. For now, here’s why I became a writer:
I became a writer by writing. In high school I wrote three poems every night. I thought that was normal, what everyone did, just like brushing your teeth. When something is second nature to you, you don’t question it. Metaphors, descriptions, articulating just the right words to convey a thought or a story, all of these things were part of my verbal vernacular and writing them down was, simply, fun.
I felt attracted to the thinking and lifestyle of characters in films who were writers. The narration of Adult Gordie in Stand By Me and, uh, ashamedly, the investigating nature of the title character in Harriet the Spy. (For a while when I was little, I kept a journal written exclusively in a secret code—I had a different symbol for every letter and could write and re-read it easily.) Later there was Guido’s tortured block I connected with in 8 1/2, my 1% (okay, maybe 11%) OCD similar to Melvin Udall in As Good As it Gets, the drive of Drew Barrymore’s characters in both Never Been Kissed as an undercover journalist and as a memoirist in Riding in Cars With Boys, Ethan Hawke’s perspectives in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. (Oh, and I know I mention it a lot, but the life of Carrie Bradshaw. Although her life is fantastical and not your everyday Jane, how she treated writing made me believe living as a writer was possible, on more lucrative topics, in a more affordable locale, and with a much smaller budget for shoes.)
Reading was huge for me. In the sixth grade we had a reading contest and I read 6,400 pages in one month. Through reading you unconsciously notice the possibilities in storytelling. It showed me writing a book was possible, but back then I didn’t understand exactly how many words was a novel? How do you know when a chapter is done and the next one starts? How would the words scribbled in my journal and the short stories written on loose leaf make it to print form, bound and branded with its own bar code? I had to learn the answers over time. Now, I admire authors who published 20+ years ago because I wonder how—how did they learn the answers to these questions before the Internet?
Working reverse sequentially, this past year I became a blogger by blogging. Even though many people don’t know what SEO stands for, search engine optimization is intriguing to me. Nerdly, I find pleasure in learning how the web works, what words effectively draw the appropriate traffic, and thinking of topics that are of interest to my clients’ audiences. When I worked in marketing and in real estate, my mind would wander to writing, not every once in a while or daily—it was always on my mind. I could be writing. I could be writing this press release to promote my own business. Then I asked myself what every writer needs to ask themselves:
There are many reasons why a career in writing is not possible or practical for each of us. We can make calculated risks. No matter what job I had I always wrote. And, maybe it doesn’t count, but I thought about writing everyday when I had a four-year writer’s block.
When I look at my boyfriend who takes his car apart, drops the transmission, puts it back together and all the while he thinks it’s rather simple, I realize that non-writers look at writing the same way. Everyone is so immersed in their own field that over time we become specialists. Other industries look intimidating and complicated. What if a bolt falls and goes missing and his car doesn’t start? What if it runs well and something falls off while he’s driving? He loves learning how things work, taking things apart, and putting them back together. It’s fun for him.
I didn’t know it was possible to have a sustainable career as a freelance writer until I came across this book about six-figure freelancing. The important thing is that I wrote during the time I spent wondering about the possibilities and logistics of a writing career. I wrote because it was, simply, fun.