Why be an Author?

Why would anyone in their right mind be an author? I’m not referring to being a writer; that’s different. There is only a single reason to be a writer — you were born that way. Sure, it may take you a while to notice it, as it did in my case. But the writer is always there.

I remember being absent from school for a couple of days in the 3rd grade. When I got back, the teacher informed me the class had spent the previous 2 days learning to write poetry. I had exactly an hour to catch up. Now, in my many days in front of our in-home library, I’d spent hours reading and re-reading children’s poetry. I figured, “How hard could it be?” In my ignorance, I knocked off a poem about birds in fifteen minutes. I turned it in, and to my teacher’s surprise, it wasn’t bad. My mom carried that silly poem in her wallet for decades.

Still, I didn’t notice I was a writer. I had no imagination, you see. The first time I really began to see the writer within was when I turned 20. Despite being an accounting major, most of my friends were either musicians, artists, or poets. The latter group used to pen poems and recite them to African drums. Sometimes, I’d accompany them, just for kicks. But I wasn’t a drummer, or an artist, because I had no imagination. In private, however, I thought I’d try to write some poems, because, “How hard could it be?”

Most sucked, a lot. But 5 of them got selected and published in a small, New York City poetry journal. So, I decided, maybe I was a poet. By then, I understood that I was a writer, because I could no longer stop writing. I’d never thought myself an artist, unless you counted the fact that I had a camera in my hand from age 12 on.

See, I’d never put the pieces together. I’d always been an artist, just not practicing. You are born an artist or a writer. It’s an innate part of your personality, whether you give it voice or not. You can certainly ignore it, but I promise, that will be to your detriment.

Being an author, however, is completely different. Being a writer (artist) is a personality trait. Being an author (painter) is a vocation or avocation. Anything that can be done as a career is a choice. You can do it, or do something else. But if you chose to be one, do so with eyes open. As an author, let me warn you: you probably won’t get rich. Some do; most don’t.

William Faulkner is considered to be one of the most talented authors in history. In fact, in my survey of the 100 Greatest Writers in History, Faulkner came out 2nd, behind the unreadable James Joyce.

Faulkner
Faulkner, all 5 feet, 5.5 inches of him. (This photo actual size)

Even so, he couldn’t make a living as an author. In order to make ends meet, the creator of such classics as The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! worked in Hollywood for years, penning 6 credited screenplays, including “To Have and Have Not” and “The Big Sleep,” two of Bogart’s best movies. This, from the eventual winner of a Nobel Prize in literature and 2 Pulitzer Prizes. See, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Without Faulkner’s friendship with Howard Hawks, for whom he penned 5 of the 6 screenplays, he may have never gotten enough visibility to achieve the fame he did.

That’s not to say you won’t either. However, it is to say that fame and fortune isn’t the reason to pursue any career, whether its author, painter, athlete, or lawyer. The reasons to do so are simpler than that: because you find the work enjoyable and because you are willing to work hard enough to be the best at it that you can be.

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner

It took me a while to answer my inner question of why I write. I used to have different answers, but they were never the reasons I gave my friends. The real reason is simple. I want to create characters that people never forget. In the not distant future, I will die, and cease to be. My daughter will have children, grow old, and die. Within the span of fifty years past the end of my life, few, if any, will remember me. Almost none will know the details of my life, because few know them now.

But maybe I can perfect my quirky, silly, brilliant, sexy and open BacallDeschanelHepburn iconic female lead. Perhaps I’ll get her right one day, and you, and your children, and their children will never forget her. Maybe I’ll stumble across a new male heroic lead, one who doesn’t shrink from a fight, but who neither is threatened by knowing the girl is smarter and maybe a bit braver.

Perhaps you’ll read my female lead, pursued in romance by her best friend, a woman as different from her as the stars are from the sea, and maybe you’ll root for them to vanquish their foes and fall deliriously in love. Maybe it’s Roxx or Trint. Or maybe you’ll meet a stranger to this planet, in physical form for the first time, discovering what it means to be a woman. Maybe Luce will be the one you don’t forget.

To be honest, I know I haven’t written that character yet. My writing is still improving enough weekly for me not to think it’s good enough. But that’s why I’m an author … because I’m determined to reach good. At the end of my life, I may have never written a character I’d love to have seen Bogie play, and maybe “Baby” was always too cool for any of my female leads, but dammit, I’m going to die trying.

Humphrey Bogart - in Casablanca, playing chess with Peter Lorre
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, playing chess with Peter Lorre

Because I’m a writer; I may as well use it for something.

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9 thoughts on “Why be an Author?

  1. Iam right with you on this one .Me as a Painter is the same I was always a Artist even during my time in the Army. I know there is not much hope that I will get rich by selling my Art but I can’t help it I have to do it. I will do it right to the end of my lifetime.Maybe I am mad or just a bit nuts.

  2. “Being an author, however, is completely different. Being a writer (artist) is a personality trait. Being an author (painter) is a vocation or avocation. Anything that can be done as a career is a choice. You can do it, or do something else. But if you chose to be one, do so with eyes open.”

    This post hit home. Thank you for this!

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