Why I Do This
Crossposted to the Deadline Dames!
This Friday’s writing post is a bit late because, well, life happens. As it is, I was taking a cake to a sixth-grade classroom this morning (long story, don’t ask) and I ended up giving an impromptu Q&A about the life of a working writer for about an hour and a half.
Oh, my God, you guys. Sixth-graders are brutal. I think the second question was, “What do you make a year?” The kid asking it was genuinely curious. The teacher looked horrified, someone else said, “You don’t ask that!” and I grinned and took it as an opportunity to explain just how much of the cover price an author actually gets from each book, how an advance works, and how many books have to sell before a profit is made.
The kids were fascinated. Their faces squinched up as they did the math, and I could see comprehension spreading through them. They were overjoyed to have a Real Live Writer in front of them, and asked about everything
I got a lot of questions about writers I knew–”Do you know X? What about Y?” And there was one young man who bonded with me over The Breakfast Club, of all things.
I love talking to kids, especially about writing and the writing life. They have great questions, they’re not afraid to ask a single one, they’re smart, and once they relax they’re hilarious. I loved watching them put the math together about how many books would have to sell to earn out a $60K advance. Oh, and we talked about genre, what it is and what it isn’t. I was able to tell about the bad and the good parts of being a writer. And no, I didn’t cuss once.
I also got to tell them why it was OK to not finish every story, and why I never have a problem finding stories. That the world was full of stories, and that a book I write about werewolves is not going to be the book they write about werewolves, because we’re different people. That people are unique, and the odds of us all being alive together in the same room are so astronomical that everyone in there has to have a story. To never doubt that they have a story to tell, something unique and marvelous inside them that deserves to be told. That telling a story is an act of faith, a line thrown into darkness–and reading a story is catching that line, from inside your own dark hole.
It was a great morning.
Then there was a trip to Ikea to get bedroom furniture for a certain Princess. Afterward, at lunch with the Selkie, there was sharing of plot points and much trash-talking and nuts-and-bolts talk.
It’s absurdly awesome to spend almost the whole day talking and thinking about writing. The sixth-graders were so awesome, and there’s nothing quite like getting a platter of Indian food and hashing over plot, continuity, human foibles, grist for the story mill, and war stories with your writing partner. I haven’t spent a more enjoyable day in a long while.
Writing is a very solitary, self-driven art. At a certain point, there’s just you and the words. You can’t get away from long hours spent with just the words and the people in your head to keep you company. The social part of a writing career–not making a fool of yourself with editors, agents, marketing people, and just generally acting professionally at conventions and otherwise–takes up a lot of time too, and sometimes it’s work instead of pleasantry.
And then a day like today comes along, where I get the chance to talk about something I love, something I am so passionate about. That class full of kids, so full of wonder and courage, reminded me of the other part of why I do this job. And trash-talking with my writing partner is another way for me to talk about the down and dirty of something I love with someone who understands, someone who gets it and speaks my language.
Now I’ve got some wordcount to get in. I get to go back to the solitary part of my job renewed and energized. And feeling pretty damn good about this whole gig. It’s great to share my passion–and it’s also great to be able to go home and find that passion still waiting for me. A most enchanting lover built of words and scenes and raw beautiful emotion, always here and always just a few moments of concentration and effort away.
Come in, the stories say. Come in and settle down.
We’ve been waiting for you.
It’s nice to feel wanted.