Why Writers Bother

Writing isn’t like other jobs. No doubt, if you’re a writer, you’re well aware of that. And you’re also aware that there are too many differences between writing and other kinds of work to list. So don’t worry; I’m not even going to try. I’ll focus on only one.

That one difference involves that great motivator that inspires most people to work in the first place: money. The sad truth is that most writers often earn next to nothing. We hear about the famous ones, the seven figure contracts. The Stephen Kings and J.K Rowlings. But for every one of them, there are thousands of writers who work for scratch. I’ve read that the average American writer earned only about $3500 in 2011. And that in 2012, the average fell to about $1500.  

When you figure that that average has been raised by the high salaries of the Kings and the Rowlings, you realize that most writers make diddly.

This low average salary has a lot of possible causes. Some blame self-publishing. Others blame “traditional” publishers for offering low or even no advances. But let’s face it: whatever the causes, the bottom line is the same. The average income that writing brings in is pitiable. Even if it were tripled, it would still be below poverty level.

So what’s wrong with us? Why do we write? When you consider how much time, thought, and sweat result in so little reward, it’s incredible that anyone bothers.

So, why do we?  

Obviously, most of us don’t do it for the money.  What then, drives us to write? Why do we persist despite the long hours, low pay, lack of perks, and high rejection rates? Is it the ego rush of eventually seeing our names on book jackets? Is it the satisfaction of knowing that people read our work? Is it masochism?

I doubt it’s any of those. No, I believe that the reason writers write is simply that we’re writers.  We have no choice. Words come out of us. They are our means of expression, our creative output; we must produce pithy phrases as surely as we must produce carbon dioxide. If we don’t let our words out, if we try to stifle them or hold back their natural rhythmic flow, we suffer. We become verbally constipated. If we don’t write for an extended period, then--as with any long term constipation, we become uncomfortable, even risking physical and emotional illness.

Writers are compelled to write. We write whether or not money is involved. We write whether or not our words get published. We write pieces that give us joy and pieces that pain us. We rewrite our writing, and then rewrite that. We submit it or stuff it somewhere or trash it. We share it or we don’t. But whatever we do, we don’t stop writing.

Writing is different from other jobs because we quit at our own peril. We write. And, at the end of a day of spewing sentences, the only reward we can be sure of is that we’ll feel temporarily relieved.   

Merry Jones has written the Elle Harrison suspense novels (THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES), the Harper Jennings thrillers (SUMMER SESSION, BEHIND THE WALLS, WINTER BREAK, OUTSIDE EDEN, and this fall, IN THE WOODS), the Zoe Hays mysteries (THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, DEADLY NEIGHBORS, THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS). She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT...) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories). Jones taught college creative writing for fifteen years. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and appeared in many magazines, including GLAMOUR. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Authors Guild, International Thriller Writers, and The Philadelphia Liars Club. The mother of two grown daughters, she lives outside Philadelphia with her husband.

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  1. What a terrific guest author post on why writers write! Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  2. Thanks for the opportunity to guest on Writers and Authors!

  3. Can I be the only one out here who simply loves to write? Yes, we want to do it with craftsmanship, even elegance, as to bring pleasure to readers. But writing well is electric all by itself, and though readers may complete the circuit, if they don't is not a denial of the charge that went through us when we wrote. I have had many gratifying obsessions over a long life, writing being one, and they cumulatively have led me to feel that if I had my ticket punched tomorrow, it's been a hoot. And none of them were done for money.


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