Reading a story you enjoy and realising you actually wrote it produces the sort of surprise and elation which is difficult to describe, except possibly as someone giving you a hard, sharp rap on the forehead, with a knuckle. Bonk! Is your head spinning yet?
There's a bookish kid hanging around somewhere on a playground. He or she is lost to the world, with a head full of wonders and what-ifs. Depending on the local culture, the school and so on, perhaps there are other kids who say that reading is uncool. It doesn't matter. Reading has its wonders and what-ifs as its consolations. The world inside a book makes irrelevant the shallowness of the world.
Now perhaps that kid develops a desire to write. Perhaps he or she grows up with those moments before sleep when ideas flow and fix themselves into puzzles that show up the next day, the day after that and onward as the months go by. The desire to tell stories is compelling. Telling them lets them out of the head, and into the heads of others, which is where it feels as if they want to be.
As compelling as it is, it is too ephemeral by any standard which has arisen after the industrial revolution. Flights of fancy are not the stuff of which productivity is made. The kid figures this quick enough and begins to work things out. "Perhaps I could be the next Stephen King, or Suzanne Collins or Rick Riordan. Perhaps everyone would buy my books and make me rich."
That's also the expectation of society as well. "You write. Stephen King writes. So you must be rich and successful."
Not really. Becoming rich and successful is a matter of luck. Admittedly you need to develop the skill set to put together a story, but other than that it's luck. Getting published is a matter of luck. Perhaps you get the slush pile reader who enjoys the story, not the one with the hangover, marital problems and a cynical grudge against your 'happily ever after' ending. It's luck finding the right beginning in the process. Perhaps it goes a step further and gets handed to an editorial committee or an editor who enjoys it. If it doesn't happen, make your own luck. Rewrite if need be, Submit. Submit. Submit. Maybe, if you strike a chord in the right place, people will begin to spread the story.
Does the kid know this?
The advice given to writers, that you only write for love, is easy to ignore, but true.
There are more than a million kindle books on Amazon. Half of all published authors earned less than USD 500 in 2011. That's about half of what an airport cleaner in Namibia earns in a month. There are more statistics here. There's the proof.
The proof is backed up by reality. People who write, really good writers, make money editing, publishing, working in normal companies, answering telephones, teaching, whatever. The best known writer I have any truck with seems to make a living writing DVD inserts and reviews.
Write for love. That's so cool, you can put it in a glass of coke with a slice of lemon on a hot summer day.
The story wants to be told. Writing a story, from the revelations of the first, wonky draft to the fifth or sixth rewrite and revision is one of the most satisfying things ever. Reading a story you enjoy and realising you actually wrote it produces the sort of surprise and elation which is difficult to describe, except possibly as someone giving you a hard, sharp rap on the forehead, with a knuckle. Bonk! Is your head spinning yet?
Write for the joy of giving coherence to the premise, solving the plot, making the characters real and the pleasure of twisting the paragraph to get the right colours on just one row of your verbal Rubik's Cube.
Write for people you care for, who share your interests. Wallow in the pleasure of filling their heads with wonders and what-ifs. Their eyes and smiles are worth more than gold. They might not be buying, but you will be as good as any bestseller in their eyes. Ask the bookish kid.
When you write for the love of it, getting accepted has to be wonderful. The story came to you because it has places to go and people to speak to. It isn't worried about the money, and you won't be either. Even if your characters get ripped apart by grisly monsters, it will be the happiest of endings.
If there's any money, then it's not the main pay-off: it's the bonus.
That's what I've figured. I can't imagine it changing. If I ever make any money from writing, I'll read this thing again.