Stop Writing?

February 14, 2007 | By | 3 Replies More

Below is a link to a blog called 101 Reasons to Stop Writing.  It is a blog about writing and actually does have a list of reasons to stop, which, when one considers the amount of verbiage being generated by the human race, might seem like an impossible challenge.  Those of us with presumptions to actually be  writers–professional, that is, receiving coin for our sentences–are afflicted, I think, with a singular mix of obsession and insecurity. 

There is, however, no Twelve-Step Program for us, and even if there were, the initial admittance–that we are powerless to control the urge to run out streams of words on the off-chance someone might actually read them (or, more, enjoy them)–means for us that we are subsequently powerless to continue with the 12-step.  But, on the other hand, explaining our affliction, paradoxically, feeds the monkey–more words.  And explaining to each other about our affliction sustains us in times when we feel ignored by those who only read what we write.  We are subject to puzzled bemusement by people who “don’t understand”; made sometimes to feel guilty by people who want us to come out and play who, when told we are busy writing, complain that we’re not doing anything.

Writing requires both solitude and congeniality–to write about people, we must know them, but we are by nature prone to misanthropy.  The more we know people, sometimes, the less we like them, yet we must be sympathetic lest we ostracize the very public we need to support our habit.

But enough about me.  I have fiction to write.  I shall leave you all with the analysis.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Culture, Entertainment, Friendships/relationships, Humor, Language, Meaning of Life, Media, Psychology Cognition, Recommended Reading/Films/Sites, Whimsy, Writing

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    The following is from Reason #7. Pretty amazing stats:

    In 2004, Nielsen Bookscan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books in the United States and here's what they came up with:

    Of those 1.2 million, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies.

    Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.

    Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.

    Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies.

    Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each.

    The average book in the United States sells about 500 copies.

    Click here for Reason #7. Then again, these skewed statistics make me wonder how much of the disparity is due to the way the publishing/distribution industry works.  It's full of biases.  for example, I once read that a famous well-published author agreed to submit one of his manuscripts under a false name to see if it could garner any interest from publishers.  None.

    Here's what Nietzsche had to say on the compulsion to write:

    But why do you write?—

    A: I am not one of those who think with an inky pen in their hand, much less one of those who in front of an open inkwell abandon themselves to their passions while they sit in a chair and stare at the paper. I am annoyed by and ashamed of my writing; writing is for me a pressing and embarrassing need, and to speak of it even in a parable disgusts me.

    B: But why, then, do you write?

    A: We, my friend, to be quite frank: so far, I have not discovered any other way of getting rid of my thoughts.

    B: And why do you want to get rid of them?–

    B: Enough! Enough!

    The Gay Science, Section 93.

    Getting "rid" of one's thoughts does sound like compulsion. But what if Nietzsche really meant "processing," rather than deleting? That's more in line with what I experience.

    I don't know if I would term my writing "compulsive," though others would.  I beat myself up too much to make myself write. I would bet that I've spent 2 hours each day writing since establishing this blog 11 months ago. 

    I don't think I'm a compulsive writer, but I am a compulsive wonderer. I find that writing forces me to sharpen the way I think to the extent that my written words don't embarrass me. I use writing to discipline my thoughts. My audience is primarily myself, because I consider myself to be a cautious and methodical learner–a good test case. If it works for me, maybe it works for others. But then, maybe I'm admitting here that I'm trying to write for others, really. Of course I am! It brings pleasure to know that others find something useful in my written words. It's similar to learning that your spoken words have been useful to someone, though potentially timeless.

    One more (scattered) thought. If you read most books or sites on how to be a writer, they encourage every aspiring writer to not give up. A few who haven't given up have become wonderful well-known writers. Good thing they didn't give up, right?  This article and list Jason directs us to is sobering–not encouraging to most writers. Perhaps it's needed medicine for most of us. Perhaps it will set some of us free. The math just doesn't support all of our dreams to be writers. If we all wrote, who would have time to read? Who would have time to live? After all, we can't all write to large audiences. That is a pyramid scheme mentality.

    Well, all of this has made me too self concsious to write.  I'm off to go read a book . . .

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    The Bookscan technology is interesting. It's a computerized database fed directly from cash register sales, so it counts actual customer purchases. This is still a distortion, since many independent booksellers are not linked to the system, but it's closer than many other "estimates" based on distribution vs returns, etc. An informal sruvey among some writers I know–on both ends of that bell curve–seems top support the PW report. Depressing. What it means for me is that I am slightly above average in book sales. I should move to Lake Wobegon.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Jason's post continues to haunt me. Yes, I want to be a good writer and I am surrounded by other people who would very much like to get a book published.  Jason's post primed me for an article by another good writer, Anne Lamott.  Here is Lamott's straight-shooting advice for aspiring writers (from Salon.com):

    I think I would rather come across as crabby and delusional, like a minor Old Testament prophet with P.M.S., than to collude with the great palace lie of almost all writing conferences. 

    Here's the problem as I see it: I have been teaching for a dozen years and I have found that very few writing students actually want to write. They want to be published, they want to be famous. But they don't want to write. They see it as the one real fly in the ointment — it's like, please: bore me later. So most people don't come to these conferences to hear writers talk about how writing can teach you to pay attention, and open your heart, help you make sense of human suffering and indeed, learn to be part of the solution. When you tell them stuff like this, they look at you as if they're thinking, Thank you SO much for sharing, but one of the AGENTS who's here says she wants to see my NOVEL, you patronizing cheese-dick.

    If you talk about process and the journey instead of success, you get a reputation. A very enthusiastic group of a dozen or so people will show up for one of your talks. They will be the odd people, the moon units. And they will take notes, in tiny cryptic little Unabomber handwriting. But when the editors and the agents give a talk on margins, or query letters, all 250 students will show up.

    I always end up feeling guilty at writing conferences because I know that mostly the participants will not get published, and no one seems to be willing to tell them this.

    For the full article, click here.

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