I often wonder why so many people decide to write. Do you remember school? How many of us enjoyed writing all those assignments? And all those red marks all over our creative endeavors? When I am asked to help a wannabe writer, I ask them what their goals are for their work. So, let’s start there: What are your goals for writing? Be honest.
If your objective is to become famous and make a lot of money, sadly, the odds are against you. It can happen and as someone who loves writing, I hope you continue, and break the bank. But it is important to understand the reality. The truth is that the large publishers make 95% of their money from less than 5% of their authors. And It ain’t easy to get in with these powerhouse publishers, but don’t give up.
So, what other goals motivate you to write? Are you writing for yourself, for family, for friends? If you are, then you have a lot less to worry about. Your family and friends will love this precious gift even if you dangle participles and drip commas and quotation marks like a madman. No red marks on your pages, other than loving kisses and admiration. Job well done!
There’s a catch.
Many people writing only for themselves realize at some point that they want to share their creation with others. And that is when the Frankenstein monster is unleashed. Once bitten by the Writing Bug, you enter a different world, a world where you must make endless decisions to bring your creation to its full potential. As Dr. Frankenstein shouted, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” The question is how do you harness this power that drives you to pound your computer keys for endless hours and days.
What I look for first in a writer is passion. Passion for the subject, story, or just expressing their feelings in an essay or poem. As I say to my writing group members, I can teach the skills. I can’t teach the passion. It is that love, passion, that makes all the trials and tribulations of publishing something I have been willing to do for fifty plus years. Writers dream the ‘impossible dream,’ and I’m here to help you make your dream come true.
WHY I WRITE
Why does anyone in their right mind write books? Forget about getting rich. It does happen but I don’t want to write Fifty Shades of Crap? Okay, some of us do. But the rest of us spend endless days chopping away at computer keys hoping our muse hasn’t led us into a blind alley or a ‘dark and stormy night.’ And, oh those tedious months of editing and rewriting, then submitting to agents, publishers, or pitfalls of self-publishing! Today, it’s not enough to pen a masterpiece, you have to promote it by having a social media platform. I sometimes long for the days when I wrote only for myself, but then something happens that makes it worth all the effort.
Yesterday, I received a fan letter from a 2nd grader on Long Island. What made it special was that his mother was a 5th grade student in my class many years ago. She told him I was one of her favorite teachers and he said, I am his favorite author. Imagine that! His note made my day and reminded me of perhaps the most important reason I persist at this passion.
A few years ago, I was presenting at a library in the boonies of Central Florida. There were only eight kids there. I did not sell any books. As I was talking, I noticed a boy sitting way back of the others put something in his mouth. It looked like a worm. I ignored it but he kept shoving these worm things into his mouth. Finally, unable to stem my curiosity, I walked over. He shoved whatever he was eating into his pocket. Guilt and fear were written all over his face. “What are you eating?” I asked calmly. He reluctantly pulled out a bag of gummy worms. I could tell he thought he was in big trouble, so I asked him if I could have one. He gave me half a worm. I walked back to the front of the room and in front of the kids began to write, “Invasion of the Gummy Worms.” After copying the poem, I handed the original to the boy who looked shocked but happy. Years later, he wrote me a letter telling me he still has that poem. No, I don’t have that gummy worm, but always have some handy when I share that poem with kids at other presentations.
At a book expo, a grandmother came to my table. She said that several years earlier, she bought a copy of The Midnight Diet Club. My humorous vampire book about a girl being bullied won a First Place Award in the Florida Writers Association competition but wasn’t a big seller. She burst into tears and thanked me because that book helped her granddaughter cope with her own bullies.
At another book signing with more authors than buyers, a young woman brought her daughter to my table. The little girl set her Mickey Mouse autograph book in front of me. “Would you please sign my book,” she asked. Another author, quite famous, whispered, “If you sign her book, she won’t buy yours.” I got that but asked the girl where she wanted me to sign. As she flipped the pages, I noticed all were signed by cartoon characters: Mickey, Donald, Chip and Dale, and so on. Finally, the girl found the signature and pawprint of Pluto and asked me to sign on the next page. I did and the girl and mother walked away without buying any of my books. The well-known author hissed, “I told you so.” I replied, “I guess I’ll know I made the big time when she has me sign next to Goofy.” I don’t think the best-selling author understood.
A young boy wrote me a fan letter. He started by telling me that Rockhound, my teenage dog detective was his “favorite person on Earth.” Then he asked me a bunch of questions about writing. Finally, he said, “I know all authors are rich. Can I swim in your pool?” After laughing for a long time, I wrote back, “If I had a pool, I’d love to invite you to swim in it.”
My point is that maybe writing won’t make me rich, and maybe I won’t sell a lot of books but there are so many other rewards. Every so often, you get reminded that you make a difference even if only one person reads your work. I used this in my classes every year. An old man and a young one are walking on a beach littered by hundreds of dying starfish. The old man bends down and with great pain tosses a starfish into the sea. The younger man laughs and says, “You can’t save them all.” The elderly man replies, “At least I saved one.”
When I wrote The Devil’s Bookkeepers, I never imagined it would win The Gold Medal Historical Fiction and then Best Book of the Year (Florida Writers Association) and become my best-selling book. I spent more than three years on this story of love and heart-wrenching decisions as the Nazi noose closes on a man and his loved ones, because I wanted my children and future generations, to know what my parents, and the relatives I lost experienced during the Holocaust. If even one person reads it and says, never again to anyone anywhere, it was worth the effort.
That’s why I write. Maybe, I’ll save one.