One of the common refrains heard from people who skirt the field of writing is that of someone who suspects that if he or she writes a book and no one reads it, is that person actually a writer. And there are numerous schools that try to answer this, much like a zen master talking about whether trees falling in the forest actually happen if no one hears them.
Lawyer and writer, Susan Wolfe, writing for Writer Unboxed, asks that same question and comes up with the inevitable answer of yes, you are a writer, which isn’t really that much of a surprise. But what does comes as a surprise to me is that her article goes on about how whether or not her second book sold was enough of a hit to allow her to want to write her third. That hit me kind of hard because it’s been a very long time since I wrote my third book, so it’s almost like I don’t ever remember having that conversation with myself.
You see, my biggest problem back in the day was whether or not to write my second novel. I had finished Innocent Until Proven Guilty early in my military career. And it was such a lot of fun to write. Then, I started imagining my second novel and decided to go with science fiction instead of mystery/suspense. And that got me to start wondering: Was the first time a fluke? Am I really a writer? Who am I trying to fool?
So, I sat down and started to write the second novel. And let me tell you: It was freaking hard. I kept second guessing myself, convinced that the first time was that one book everyone has inside of him (or her), and a second one meant you were really trying to be a writer. And about halfway through that novel, I can’t even begin to tell you how many self-doubts started flying around me. Yet, like all stories, this one had an ending, and I managed to muddle through it. That book became Leader of the Losers. Without a doubt, that was the hardest book I ever wrote. My third one, and those after, were never as hard as that second book. I’ve written 14 of them now. I’m writing my 15th.
But getting back to the original question of whether or not someone considers himself/herself a writer based on a particular book’s success seems almost irrelevant to me. I’m a writer because I love to write. I was writing stories for several decades before I wrote my first novel for actual publication. I had written hundreds of short stories that had been published during that time as well, which I suspect is a bit of a problem these days as not a lot of writers get their start that way any more. Instead, they’re expected to write their great opus out the gate, which is why so many self-published books read like someone’s very first thing they’ve ever written. Because it is.
To Susan Wolfe, I would say relish the act of writing more than the business of writing. If you’re doing this to “sell books” rather than to tell stories, I suspect you’re probably never going to find true happiness. You might find financial success, but that’s such a sad way to find one’s place in art. I’ve had moments where a turn of a phrase I came up with has lightened my entire day. I’ve had others where I’ve been seriously pissed off at a character of mine for doing something that I hadn’t expected. Writing finds those paths that logic can’t travel because each sentence is part of a journey, and a writer should constantly be trying to find new roads.