You Say You Want to Be a Writer

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The Writer Without a Coffee Habit

I may be crossing a line when I say this, especially as a writer, but I don’t like coffee. I really don’t. Unless it is mixed with heaping amounts of sugar AND served up as ice cream, I never cared for the taste. It is too pungent and, dare I say, bitter.

He liked the idea of coffee quite a lot — a warm drink that gave you energy and had been for centuries associated with sophisticates and intellectuals. But coffee itself tasted to him like caffeinated stomach bile. So he did an end-around on the unfortunate taste by drowning his java in cream.

— Author John Green in An Abundance of Katherines

I do, however, enjoy the smell of coffee. Its aromaticity gets at the heart of me. Not because it makes my mouth water, quite the opposite. For me, it is how it triggers the brain to spin visions from the past.

I see my parents drinking from steaming cups in the tiny kitchen of my childhood home. My dad has long since passed away. My friends sit gulping java by the gallon as we study for a medical school exam. Those years of cramming minutia into my brain were over a decade ago. A waitress tops off a friend’s cup as we catch up at a local diner. We no longer live in the same state to continue our afternoon get-togethers. Let’s not forget the hours upon hours I write in bookshops and cafes, breathing in the rich aromas around me. Okay, this one lives on.

With all these lovely memories, I should not only like coffee, I should love it … but I don’t.

Why Do You Want to Be a Writer?

I don’t like the taste of coffee, but I have fond memories where coffee nestles in the background. That does not by default mean I like coffee.

Listen, if I want a caffeine fix, there are more than enough alternatives. I could dip into a box of chocolates (oh, yeah!) or I could choose from a variety of teas. Personally, I favor a chai latte. The baristas at Barnes and Noble know to whip one up as soon as I make my way through those double doors.

The problem is that many people will pretend to like something even when it is only the “idea” of it that they like.

Take writing as an example. So many people talk about wanting to live the writer’s life. Everyone wants to be a writer. They see it as a laissez-faire existence, a life of ease and simplicity. After all, you sit around and scribble ideas on paper while sitting back with that cup of java in hand. You can work from home in your bunny slippers or from any place you wish. The world begs for your words. You are so effortlessly creative, you are hardly working!

Ummm, no.

If this is one of the reasons you want to be a writer, you are in for a rude awakening.

Realities of the Writer’s Life

Writing is hard work, harder than many people realize.

On the days the ideas flow, yes, the writing can be so gosh darn satisfying, but there will be days when that simply does not happen. There will be days when you stare at a blank page or days that your cursor blinks at you with a stink eye. There will be days the words are sparse and days they do not come at all. There will be days you throw out sentences, paragraphs, pages, or whole chapters you spent painstaking hours or days trying to get just right. Then, there’s the rejection.

It comes for all of us, even the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the world.

Not all writers will get a traditional book deal. If they do, the average advance for a first-time novel is only $5,000 to $15,000. That’s great until you realize how long it took to write it and that despite a finished product, it might take a year or more for the book to actually come out.

The trouble is many writers struggle to find an agent that will take them on in the first place, and even if they do, publishers may turn them down. There are no guarantees, even if you choose to self-publish. How much can you earn as a writer? Will your books sell? Are you going to be the synonymous “starving artist”?

It depends on your critics. While you hope readers sing your praises, there will always be negative reviews, some constructive, others harsh. Some flagrantly mean. Months or years of your hard work could be reduced to a two-line zinger in a public forum. You have to have thick skin to stay motivated.

No pain, no gain, right?

The Joy of Being a Writer

Ah, but those gains. When you do land an agent. When you do get the book deal. When you get your first paycheck or advance for writing. When you hold a hard copy of your own book in your hands. When you sell your first book. When you get a five-star review from a stranger (love your reviews too, Mom!). When your book makes the best-seller list.

Better yet are the smaller everyday moments of being a writer. When your writing flows like water. When you find the perfect word. When a sentence is so well-written it knocks your socks off. When you shoot past your word count. When you wake up with the idea that finally brings your plot together. When a new story idea jumps out at you.

If you don’t really love the process of writing, the ups and downs, the inevitable risks, the long and winding road, you don’t really like writing in and of itself. You only think you do. You want the results without the work. You want the accolades without the effort. In the real world, you are unlikely to get very far if you cannot stomach the journey.

You have to want it all if you are going to succeed. That means accepting the pains with the gains.

If any of this has given you pause, it’s time to ask yourself what you want. It’s simple really. Drink the coffee even though you don’t like it or drink what you really like. Either you can live life with a bad taste in your mouth, doing what you feel you are supposed to do, or you could savor what truly satisfies you, doing what you are meant to do. The choice is yours.