My friend and mentor, the late
Charles L. Grant, gave me the writing pep talk of my life. Charlie had
written and published over 100 books and more short stories than I
could count. He wrote horror, romance, YA fiction, nonfiction, science
fiction, and a few things that defy genres, all under different names.
He was also an award-winning editor and anthologist.
You’d think someone like that
would also be a wealth of pithy rah-rah speeches. Well . . . you might
One night about fifteen years
ago, after hitting one too many brick walls, I called Charlie and told
him I hadn’t written a word in almost six months. His response?
“I don’t care.”
“No, Charlie, you don’t
understand, I haven’t written a word in almost six
“Oh, yeah, I do understand. And
I still don’t care.”
Some pep talk.
“But Charlie .
“But my butt. I understood
every syllable, and I still don’t care.”
He was starting to get on my
already frazzled nerves. Then he said something that changed my writing
life almost immediately.
“Look. We’ve been friends
awhile now, and we’ll be friends whether or not you ever write another
word. Just make up your mind. If you are going to write, then write. If
not, then quit whining about it.
“There are two kinds of folks
in this world. Readers and writers. Both are fine folks and both need
each other. If you’re not going to write, then be the best reader you
can be. And remember, I have three books coming out in the next six
months. The fact is I don’t need the competition, so the fewer writers
the better. You’ve got the tools, you’ve got the ideas. You’ve also got
the right to use them or not. So write or don’t write. It doesn’t
matter to me.
“But does it matter to you?
That’s the question.”
It still does.
He called back the next night
and asked how many pages I wrote after we got off the phone. I told him
seven. And that advice still holds.
I have never done a reading of
my own work or a book signing where I didn’t hear this at lease once: I’m
going to write something one of these days.
Those people are called readers.
And they’re fine people.
But a writer writes. And a
serious writer—a published writer— writes on a regular basis, studies
the markets, writes dozens of queries, and keeps at it.
Write or don’t write. It doesn’t
matter to me. I don’t need the competition.
Are you a writer or a reader?
Both are fine folks.