Someone I know on Facebook recently asked (paraphrasing), "How do I know when I should give up on being a writer?" Here's what I wrote in response.
If I could use two words to describe being an author, I'd choose "lonely," and "inefficient."
Lonely, because even when you're writing and sharing a LOT of what you write, you spend most of your time working alone. It's grueling going days or weeks with no feedback, no praise, no recognition, nothing. No idea if what you're writing is going to "make it" or not. No matter how long I've been writing, this doesn't change.
Inefficient because, well, writing is hard work. It took me about three months to write "Petty," and another eight to edit it properly to make it as good as it could be - so, almost a year. Then I commissioned cover art, talked with advance readers, had my wife put in dozens of hours doing her own editing, then started in on all the social media.
Earlier this week a friend from high school posted on my Facebook wall. He said, simply, "loved the ending." Three words. And that was a good day.
Making it "big" like John Green, Danielle Steele, or Stephen King is a true rarity, and reserved for the very lucky and the very popular. (Talent helps, but it's really only a small part of the equation when it comes to a book going viral.)
Even if Petty did become what would be, by standards of most publishing, a "success," I could have made more money working for minimum wage digging ditches.
So, that's the life of the writer: Working for less than minimum wage on a project you're emotionally attached to for little to no praise. And that's "successful" compared to most who pick up the pen.
But I do it because I love doing it. I love crafting the words, the stories, and the characters. I read over what I wrote and, occasionally, think, "Holy shit, this is some good stuff." If the world exploded tomorrow and I was the only one left alive, I'd probably sit down at my computer and write. I do it because it's engaging. I do it because it's beautiful. I do it because it makes me feel alive in a particular way that little else does.
A friend of mine said this about poker, but I think it applies to writing as well: "If you're good enough to be successful at [writing], you could make more money with less effort and less time doing something else."
But I don't care about that. I just want to feel alive.