In case you missed it a few weeks ago, James Patterson called off his novel The Murder of Stephen King. It was actually a concept with potential, though not terribly unique: a serial killer is reenacting the deaths in a famous writer’s books. Too bad Patterson decided to base it on a real-life writer, one who has already done this story a couple of ways, who has actually been stalked and terrorized by crazy people, and who isn’t much of a Patterson fan.
Still, this was a tacky novel concept, so I’m glad he pulled it. I name characters after real people all the time, but only with their permission. And while my friends are largely delighted to die in horrible ways – which tells you something about my friends – I am sure any who have actually been stalked would not appreciate it immortalized without their consent.
At times, usually in frustration when sales are low or when struggling to carry a box back to the car (books are heavy) we will complain, “Why are we doing this again?”
And there is always a fellow author to say, “Because we have no choice.”
Because you love books.
Because you have stories inside you that won’t shut up.
Because it’s therapy.
Because it is the only thing you’re truly good at doing.
Because no one is writing the stories you want to read.
Because you love making worlds.
Because there isn’t enough of [your subgenre here] in the world yet.
Because you only get better by doing more of it.
Because if you stopped the voices would take over.
Because just like the readers, you gotta know how it ends.
Writer Mia Silverton told me she began her writing career this year, hearing this advice from Quinn Loftis in three parts: We write because we have to. We write because we are inspired. We write to impact and influence lives.
“I do,” Mia says. “I write because I simply have to tell these characters’ stories and see the truth unfold. ‘We write because we are inspired.’ I am exactly that. Inspired by all the books, authors and lightbringers that have touched my heart and soul during every single year and phase of my life. ‘We write to impact and influence lives’ – I write because I want to help change lives, through not only the characters and worlds I create, but the messages that are spoken within those pages of love and healing. A well-spoken word in the past created a shift in me when the time was needed and I feel called to pay it forward.”
Nowhere in that do you read, “So that I can make a couple million bucks.” And if you did, there would be this sad, sick swell of laughter from the dealer’s room.
Sure, if you’ve reached that lovely, privileged spot where you’re making a living at writing, you write to pay the rent and put food on the table. I was on a panel at some point during the Fall Deathmarch Tour about writer’s block, and all of us opined that one sure-fire cure to writer’s block is a big paycheck held over a deadline. Filmmaker Jack Snyder listed his St. Louis house, apartment in Los Angeles, office rent and two kids in private school as his cures for writer’s block. Money is a terrific motivator.
But… the money is a motivator because we want what Patterson has achieved. We want to reach that point where you can write whatever you want, get it published, and still pay the rent. So if you reach that point… why would you hand off the good part to somebody else? What do you do with all your time, roll around in the dollars cackling like Scrooge McDuck? If you’re so busy managing the money that you don’t have time to do the writing part, maybe the priorities have gotten a little out of whack?
Harlan Ellison once disparaged the phrase, ‘I like having written but I don’t like to write, it’s hard work.’ “Well, fuck you, hard work!” Ellison said with his usual delicacy. “You don’t like it, go out and sail sailboats. Of course it’s hard work. If it wasn’t hard work, everybody would be doing it. And the better you do it, the harder the work is. It’s supposed to be hard. Art is not supposed to be easy…. Art is supposed to be hard. Art is supposed to be demanding. That’s the way I feel about it.”
So I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on in James Patterson Inc., and while I might envy receiving one-tenth of his (or Stephen King’s) paychecks, I’ll still keep writing my hopefully-not-terrible books.
Because I have to. For more than one reason.