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I Got 99 Problems, But Your Book Ain't One

So you want to tell me the book you want to write, when what you really mean is the book you wish you had already written and from which you were reaping the royalties already. I know you don't want to write a book because you are not writing a book.

You think because I have managed to get published that I might have some cleverly obscured secret of the industry. You neglect the fact that you have never read one of my books, that you have almost negative interest in what I write (you are not much for books on principle), that your elevator pitch could only have less to be with me if you wrote it in Hindi. You wouldn't listen to me if I tried to impart my hard-won wisdom, because you haven't ever listened to me before you thought it could increase your bank account.

In truth, you never wanted to write a book. What you truly want but will not say is for me to write your book, ignoring all my projects, and then turn over the finished manuscript to you for free. I've listened to this same ramble a dozen times from people who never wrote another word outside my sight. They want to show me that they understand the work of writing a book, though they fidget over two paragraphs of introduction. Writing is hard, lonely work not done under the editorial gaze of an author. Writing is what you do instead of drinking and partying, because sacrifices have to be made and your personal life is first on the altar. No matter how it enables your addiction, Hemingway would never have said to write drunk. He respected his art far too much for that.

If you want to be an author, you are more than likely going to spend most of your time not being an author. Instead, you will work retail, teach fifth grade, change oil so that you can survive while banging out your masterpiece. If this doesn't make you rapacious for a moment to write, if you don't scribble down ideas in the middle of your shift and slip them into your pocket as though shoplifting, this isn't the work for you. Fulltime jobs outside the writing field are the bane of wannabe fulltime authors, but they are much better than starving and eviction. It's hard to write when you are more concerned with your survival.

You are not alone in working a day job while finishing off your novel. Most great minds you can name spent half their daylight hours doing things that had little to do with their writing. They needed to support themselves and their families, but they didn' t let that stop them from writing. Let this limitation focus your attention like a laser, giving you the discipline you need to get your words out. Better writers than you have thrived under worse conditions, feeling exhausted after a day of work but sitting in front of the typewriter. You can do this.

Every time you tell me about something you are going to write while your pen goes dry, I hear only that you would rather talk fantasies than make writing today your reality. I can't blame you for not writing - it is a harsher mistress than most - but I don't have to nod politely as you pile lies upon lies in hopes I will give up my burden to take away the hard work before you. Make no mistake, I know you intend your book to be my problem. I won't be meeting you after hours, after work or a panel, to take over the idea gestating inside you. I am no surrogate, loaded down with overdue triplets myself. Not everyone is made to be a parent and birth isn't meant to be easy and nine months premature. If you want to bring something into the world, you won't do it by mental malnourishing and passing the buck. Maybe you feel the world needs your book, but I need mine even more.

Only one person can write your book and that's you, by sitting down and getting started today.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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