Anybody ever told you to "give up that silly hobby and get a real job?" Read this.
You have my permission to be a writer.
Does that sound strange? Maybe it does. If you're one of the lucky few enjoying the unconditional acceptance and support of every friend, every single member of your family, every stranger you talk to at a bus stop, feel free to ignore this feature.
Me? I grew up hearing people tell me I was crazy. Impractical. Too imaginitive. Childish.
Or the real muse-killer: Get a real job.
Make a living as a writer? Yeah. Right. The odds against making a living wage as a freelance journalist are astronomical, and that gamble looks positively glowing compared to your chances of survival on a fiction writer's wage. Journalists, at least, earn respect. They're reporting truth. They're chasing down the facts, and the facts always seem to run a little faster than they do.
Journalists are writers, but they have a real job. Sometimes they're even role models.
Fiction writers? You just make up stories, like kids kicking around tall tales at recess. It's all make-believe. Anybody can make up a story. How hard could it be, right?
So when are you going to grow up, anyway?
Any of that sound familiar? It sure does to me. For every one person who said, “you're really good at this,” there were a dozen telling me to forget it, hang it up, quit dreaming. Learn a trade.
Get a real job. To this day, I detest that phrase. Because there is no job more real than writing. There is no task more demanding, more exacting, more exhausting than the constant sifting through the detritus of daily life in search of that single grain of story that makes us jump up and shout, “hey, I've really got something here!”
That's when you get the strange looks, of course - the ones Robert E. Howard used to get, shadow-boxing as he walked down the streets of Cross Plains, a new Fighting Dennis Dorgan story writing itself in his head.
Any time you say “Eureka!” you're going to get that look. I've learned to grin, get out my notebook, and get to work. I don't care how strange it seems. I've even learned to feel a bit sorry for the folks who give me those looks. They don't say “Eureka.” Their lives are closed to that, never to be reopened.
If you have ever doubted what this is, this insane thing that lives in your head and speaks out of turn at dinner parties, I am here to tell you it is normal. If you have ever wondered if you're going crazy because imaginary people wake you up at 3 a.m. and demand to have their actions recorded – now, right now before they get away from you – I am here to tell you it is healthy. Listen to those people. They will steer you through treacherous and wonderful waters. You may not always like where they take you, but you will always learn something from the experience of going there.
They'll tell you you're being childish. Fine. Be a kid. Embrace it. Kids have huge eyes. They see everything. It's all new and fresh and loud and live in color, nonstop. Ray Bradbury's been a kid for 86 years. He has written stories that will still be taught in high school and college literature classes two hundred years from now. Robert Bloch was a kid when, at age 42, he wrote an intimate, chilling story about a boy whose best friend was his mother. Nobody's going to forget that one, either.
They're out there now, like the haunted, familiar faces surrounding accident victims in Bradbury's story “The Crowd.” They're pressuring you, telling you don't, telling you no, telling you can't.
I'm only going to tell you one thing: write. Write like your life depends on it.
You have my permission.