Successful Authors Explain Why They Write

If writing were illegal I’d be in prison. I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion. — David Baldacci

For most, writing isn’t a lucrative profession; it’s a passion. According to Meredith Maran, “one million manuscripts are currently searching for a U.S. publisher. One percent of these will get the nod.” But publishing a book isn’t enough. Only 30% of books that do get published break even.

So why do more and more people try to become authors?

Maran attempts to answer that question in ‘Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do.’  She interviewed twenty bestselling authors on the tricks, tips, and secrets of a successful writing life. There’s a short chapter dedicated to each author’s response plus an introduction which quotes George Orwell’s Why I Write.

Here are a few of my favorite extracts from the book:

“Every story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.” — Isabel Allende

“Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident.” — Mary Karr

“In the beginning, it was that sense of losing time. Now…I have the sense that I can biff the world a bit. I can exert a force.” — Michael Lewis

Virtually all of the authors openly admit that writing is challenging. In fact, the reader is tempted to conclude that a successful author must be a harsh critic of their own writing. Unlike other professions, supreme self-confidence seems to be a handicap.

So why do successful authors write?

There’s no single compelling answer in the book beyond Orwell’s 1946 suggestions:

  • Aesthetic enthusiasm
  • Historical impulse
  • Political purpose
  • Sheer egoism

However, I enjoyed the blunt explanation provided by Sue Grafton: “I write because in 1962 I put in my application for a job working in the children’s department at Sears, and they never called me back.”

As Plato wrote, necessity is the mother of invention.

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