In the Matrix movie, there is an ionic moment when Neo wakes up after a neural uplink and says, “I know kung fu.” If they ever figure out how to upload knowledge and skill sets like that, I am pretty sure I will never get out of that machine. I want to know how to do everything.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many people I’ve encountered who tell me, “I want to write a book some day,” or, “I wrote half a book a long time ago, but I’ve been too busy to get back to it.” What makes the difference between them and the people who actually write a book, or many books?
I remember as a kid, I took karate lessons for one month. I tried a lot of things for a little while until I lost interest and moved on to something else, but karate I remember specifically. I wanted to be tough and fast and a mean fighting machine if anybody messed with me. However, I didn’t really enjoy the lessons or do the practices and exercises. So I stopped and did other things. At the time, I didn’t think of it. Now, I understand it better.
I didn’t want to LEARN karate. I wanted to HAVE LEARNED karate. I wanted the results, but not the actual day to day actions leading to them. The same thing happened with piano lessons. I wanted to know how to play the piano, but I did not want to practice.
So I think it is with many people who want to HAVE WRITTEN a book. They want to be an author, but they don’t really want to write. That’s the difference. Unlike karate and piano, I love writing. I love to be in the middle of a scene hammering on the keyboard as fast as the words will arrange themselves in my mind. I enjoy going through the experience with the characters and imagining new worlds and exploring big ideas. I wrote over a dozen books before I had my first one published. And even if I never had any books published, I’d still write them.
At a book signing I attended, Terry Brooks said writers write because they have to. He went on to explain that writing takes a lot of time for no money and a very small return. If you have a choice, do something else. We only write if we have to.
I have to.
I’m hoping this insight will help people interested in writing to understand. If you want to be writing, then write. You will inevitably write many books. If you only want to have written a book, but don’t really prefer the act of writing to other activities in your life, then maybe the other things you do are what you really care about.
There are many authors who write just one book and stop. That’s great, but they clearly aren’t someone who wants to write. Rather, they are among those who succeeded, but only wanted to have written a book. Once they reached their goal, they had no motivation to write more.
This has significance for me, and anybody who really enjoys writing, too. I think of book ideas by the dozen. Some I write, others I don’t, for many reasons. Now I have a new way of deciding which ideas to invest in and which to leave alone. I write the books I want to be writing. I don’t write the books I only want, “to have written.”