1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Should I be a writer?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Steerpike, Jul 29, 2011.

    Reading an old book for writers - "Science Fiction Handbook, Revised," by L. Spargue de Camp and Catherine Crook deCamp. L. Sprague deCamp was a fairly well-known author and editor of science fiction and fantasy back in the day. At any rate, the book has some really good advice and insight, and other advice I'd argue with.

    When he answers the question people often put to him - "should I be a writer," - he says, in part, the following:

    "Strictly speaking, the right answer to such a question is 'No.' Unless a person has so strong an urge that he will struggle to become a writer no matter what anyone else says--if there is any doubt in his mind, he had better avoid this profession. He will almost certainly do better financially in some other occupation for which his physique, education, and personality qualify him.
    ...
    "A writer must have psychological toughness and resilience, so that, although time and again felled by frustration and disappointment, he promptly bounces back. If adversity, such as working for a year on a book and then having the publisher go bankrupt, throws a writer into such a fit of despondency that he cannot work at all, he is too sensitive for the rough-and-tumble of freelancing. Disappointment is the daily lot of the self-employed writer. It seems even worse than it is, because a piece may be rejected twenty times before it is accepted. Hence, one eventual success entails twenty preliminary failures."

    What do you guys think? An accurate assessment? Overly pessimistic, or not pessimistic enough?

    I've heard much the same sentiment from writers who make a living at it today, so I think deCamp is probably pretty close.

    What say you all?
     
  2. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    I think with time anyone can write gold.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't. I think anyone can learn to be a competent writer. But I think there is a certain innate talent that can't be taught. Some, no matter how much time they put into it, will never be "great" writers.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I can't disagree with the original quote. And I've had the same thoughts when I see posts from people on this site that ask others to talk them into being a writer, or come up with ideas for them to use, or to solve a problem with a plot that they cannot solve themselves.

    It's fine to compare notes, or to ask where or how you can find information that you're looking for. Or to discuss the kinds of characters you like or dislike, and compare with other writers. To me, that's talking shop. It's the Hamlet-like questions that irritate me, as well as asking basic grammar questions ("What's a participle?") or asking for definitions or synonyms - those can be looked up independently.

    My own view is this: writing is a very tough field to break into if you mean to do it for gain. And if you're going to succeed in a tough field, you really need to have all the Hamlet-like questions settled firmly before you start and you also really need to have enough drive to be able to look things up for yourself.
     
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  5. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shame. I thought you were having some sort of meltdown, SP: baring your soul having been rejected again..:)

    A fair assessment for the jobbing freelancer I would guess.

    But for the rest of us (I imagine) who do some form of work and write, I wonder whether the 'should' comes into it at all. Probably not.

    (Though, if your writerly dreams are in some way impeding your vocational progress and you have mouths to feed then maybe the 'should' is legitimate)
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Good point, Art. Maybe I should have entitled the thread "Should I be a full-time writer." That's the audience deCamp is talking to, I think. People who want to make their living from it.
     
  7. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Yeah when I saw who made this I was shocked.
     
  8. teacherayala
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    teacherayala Contributing Member

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    Funny thing--when I saw the post's title, I automatically went "No." Because I thought to myself, if you're asking yourself the question then you most likely shouldn't. Being a writer isn't like choosing the soup of the day: should I be a writer, or become an engineer instead? Not to mention that becoming a writer on your own time at your computer is easy enough, but becoming a published writer is a very complicated business that requires some real skill and also knowledge that doesn't just fall from heaven one day. Granted, some initial talent could maybe fall from heaven on the day of your birth, perhaps, but the knowledge doesn't.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think I agree with deCamp. But it's not, to me, discouraging. There are millions of people who love playing golf, and who devote a lot of time to it, but will never come anywhere close to being professional caliber. But they see these major championships and these players who win a million bucks in one weekend tournament, and they dream of that. But only a very few of the millions of golfers out there can win professional tournaments. Does that prevent them from playing? No - they still love it, and they take pride in how well they can do it; they're proud when they set a new personal low score for a round.

    I think writers are like that. Real writers, I mean, not just those who are in it for money. I've written a great deal of stuff that I never intend to submit anywhere. I've shared it with a few friends and they like it, and that's ok for me. I'm working now on stories I do intend to try to publish, but not until I think they're ready, and that's a ways away. I have a LOT of work to do. But that's the thing that thrills me - I have a LOT of work to do, and that makes me wake up in the morning with a smile on my face.
     
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  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Hmmm. Out of curiosity, in what way are the ones in it for the money not real writers?
     
  11. e(g)
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    In my opinion no one today should try to be a full-time novelist. I believe things are different now; the market is essentially broken, and we're not quite sure where things are going. If a big publisher gets a great story, I mean really great, by an author no one has heard of and who has no audience, I don't know how they can actually sell it as a novel.

    In order to do so, they have to generate the audience for the author, and I don't believe anyone, today, knows how to market books in such a way in order to do that. I think no matter what, the printing and promotion of a book for a new author outweighs the profits that can be made. In other words, if everything is right, the math still doesn't figure out correctly.

    The self-published author, on the other hand, has a chance because they have almost no overhead and they work for free. They can publish to Kindle and then go about trying to create an audience. Assuming their work is also great, just like that which would have come from the big publisher, they might actually succeed. Then, with an audience, the big publisher might pick them up and take a chance at promoting them.

    Of course, if an agent can sell the movie rights and a movie is made and it's a hit, the novel will be a hit as well. Frankly, I'd rather write poetry and play the lottery.

    The problem with the self-publishers of great works is that their book is considered amongst all the other dreck novels, novellas, short stories with professional book covers, etc. that Kindle is selling. So standing out from that crowd requires the author to be quite savvy in terms of writing, formatting for e-pubs, book cover design, editing, and sales to some degree. These talents are almost contradictory for writers. A true literary genius is not going to be a good editor, book cover designer, HTML expert, and capable of writing the sales blurbs and pre-fab reviews for his or her book.

    I'm not even sure what the future of fiction is. I haven't been to Barnes and Noble in over a year, and I'd never buy a paper book from them these days. I get those from Amazon and Kindle. I write reviews of horror novels by small presses and independent publishers, so I don't buy books the same way the general reading public does. Therefore, I can't use my buying habits as a guide for what sells books. (Case in point, I actually bought a 1-star book twice so that I could comment on it at both Amazon and B&N, that's not normal buying behavior.).

    But here's my main reason for saying the market is broken: I am desperate to read any new talent that writes a really good gothic story. It’s my hobby to seek out such individuals, and I can't find them. Either they don't exist or there is no way for me to know they exist. That tells me that supply is not capable of meeting demand, and that's a broken market.

    A person, today, should write novels in the same way a painter paints paintings: without any hope of ever making money from them. Rather they should be content to simply create something beautiful in the world. No money, just existential credit.
     
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  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I dislike when experts/authors advice against becoming a writer. It sounds like they are worrying about the competition. If it is so hard for them why don't they just quit themselves in the first place? Who are they to tell anyone to give up their dream? If they persister even though people shouldn't write, why would I give it all up? And imagine every one following this advice - what a lot of good writers the world would miss. People are so good in putting up obstacles to themselves on why not to write anyway, they don't need that kind of disencouragment above that. Let people give it a try, and time and experience will tell if they will become a writer for real. (Who is really passionate about it will persist, and probably be good at it in the end.) When they discover the hard work behind it - that is where the serious ones are separeted from the wanna-be's. But you have to give everyone a chance to discover that for themselves. I wouldn't say quit your regular job to write if you are a beginner, but lot of people can figure out if it is their profession while writing on their free time.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree with the quote in toto!

    and not with 'I think with time anyone can write gold' which i don't see as possible, if 'gold' = 'excellence'... that's like saying 'with time any monkey can paint a masterpiece'...

    however, if 'gold' only = monetary gain, then it's been proven true by many terrible writers whose books become bestsellers regardless of their poor [or nonexistent] literary quality...
     
  14. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting read.

    I tend to think that practice can make someone good or great. But then not everyone will be excellent in their field, no matter how much they practise.

    The most brilliant writers, musicians, painters et al have something more. It comes easier to them from the get-go perhaps. It's a predisposition.

    So the old adage 'everybody's got a book in them', I don't think is really true.
    Far too general.
     
  15. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Should you be a writer? Well, seeing as you misspelled the title of this thread, I say "maybe not". :D
     
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  16. coffeebeanmachine
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    Coming from a science fiction and fantasy author, I can completely understand how a person shouldn't quit their day job to pursue a writing career. However, as a senior editor at a non-profit organization, I have to say that even in a broken economy, there is a definite need for good writers.

    In college, when I decided to choose a career in writing, I think quite a few people raised an eyebrow, wondering if I'd end up living in a cardboard box down by the river. But for me, it worked out. I certainly don't make a killing in my career, but our family isn't starving, either.

    What does concern me is when I see dreams of professional writing typed out in long, rambling sentences with horrible spelling, little punctuation, and deplorable grammatic structure. I agree with Steerpike that there is an innate creative talent that every good writer must have, but it's also necessary to pursue a working knowledge of the mechanical fundamentals if you want anyone to take you seriously. This applies to any sort of writing, whether technical or poetry.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    LOL. You know, I've looked at this thread half a dozen times since posting it and completely missed the typo. Good point :D
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. In fact, in the book I mentioned, deCamp harps on this point quite a bit (and then makes a few asides about things like ending a sentence with a preposition, which, as he points out, isn't really bad English to begin with...).
     
  19. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    The answer is yes.

    Anyone can be resilient and bounce back after failures. There's actually no effort in sending your manuscripts out, or trying to publish your story in a magazine or whatever. Sure, it might be painful, but trying again and again will harden your skill until failure is your second nature, and when the stories get accepted, it'll feel amazing.

    All that is theory, though, as I've never published a book, but I've been through similar ordeals.

    But yeah, when it comes to earning a living, best stick to safer jobs.
     
  20. coffeebeanmachine
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    I almost went on to say that you have to know the rules before you can decide when it's appropriate to break them, but I was afraid of getting too long-winded. :p

    In my job we get a lot of older people writing in with proofreading comments on our materials. Some have called us out on ending sentences with prepositions, but as I like to point out, the alternative sounds very stuffy in this day and age. Technically correct or not, few people want to read a sentence like, "That is the problem to which I am referring." :D
     
  21. The-Joker
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    My opinion, and I might be wrong, is that every person has the potential to be a skilled wordsmith, that is the ability to learn the mechanics of good writing, and how to craft eloquent, evocative passages. This comes through reading published novels and drawing from the various techniques employed by successful writers, as well as honing your skills through your own writing and revisions. So basically these skills come through practice, and everybody can practice.

    This innate talent comes in the form of creativity. Now, that I think is slightly harder to cultivate no matter how much you practice. This is the ability to think up new ideas, to take worn concepts and remodel them into the obscure, to mold characters into living breathing people, to weave an emotional thread between the reader and the writing.

    While eloquence is about reading volumes of work and fine-tuning your skills, creativity is reading those volumes and then conceiving something that exists outside of all you have read.

    This creativity is the hallmark of a good writer, not how technically sound the prose is. Unfortunately I must concede that this nebulous talent of creativity is one that no writer can be certain they possess. You might know that you don't possess it, at least not yet. For instance when confronted with a year-long drought of innovative ideas, or no way to keep yourself interested enough to finish a novel. If one regularly encounters such predicaments then maybe they do lack creativity, and this might be become a serious impediment to their career in writing.

    So to answer the original question, should you be a writer? Don't base your answer on how well you can string words together, or how proficient you are in the English language. These are purely learned skills. Rather base the answer on how many ideas and plots are swarming in your mind, ideas that you feel are inspired enough to show the world.

    Like I said I could be wrong, and I've heard many times that a concept means nothing, it's all about how you write it. I agree with that mostly, but if those concepts are the only innate talent a writer has, and everything else can be learnt, then perhaps it's the only thing that divides a potentially successful writer from an unsuccessful one.
     
  22. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    That was such a pretentious post, no offense :p
     
  23. AmyHolt
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    If someone can talk you out of being a writer then they did you a favor because you shouldn't be one. As hard as that may sound it's true. It's far better to learn from someone elses mistakes and decided not to be a writer than be a needy writer that constantly needs the praise and approval of others to make it from one day to the next.
     
  24. coffeebeanmachine
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    I agree to an extent. While everyone can improve with practice, I believe the ability to capture and apply these skills in your own writing is at least partially related to personality and to the way you process information. I would guess that's true of any skill. For example, I may be able to improve my financial portfolio with some classes and tips from skilled investors, but no matter how hard I try, I'll never be a financial wiz--I'm just not gifted that way.

    Yes! Eveyone can get better at the mechanics, but it does take practice. That's what I was trying to say earlier--if you want to become a good writer, you can't forget the mechanics, even if you're a poet.

    True, but even those with innate creative ability have to practice in order to hone their skill.

    Yes, but even a brilliant writer should check their spelling before they submit a manuscript to a publisher.
     
  25. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    I suppose it depends on what your definition of "writer" is. :)
     

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