Thursday, March 10, 2011

Everything I Know I Learned from Mickey Spillane

This week, on March 9, we celebrate the 93rd birthday of crime author Mickey Spillane.

Here is what I know about Mickey Spillane:
1. He is the creator of gritty detective Mike Hammer.
2. He got his start writing comic books.
3. He wrote his first novel, I, THE JURY, in less than three weeks.
4. He wrote it because he needed the money to buy a house.

It's that last factoid that I find interesting. Every writer I've ever known has wrestled with the question: do I write because I want to or do I write for the money? There's no doubt money is seductive. Especially if by earning money you can pay enough bills to ensure that you can spend more time writing. But then, are you spending that time writing what you want or simply what will pay so that you can keep spending more time writing...well, round and round we go.

At the heart of the conundrum, of course, is the assumption that what pays is different from what is near and dear. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case more often than not. What most of us want is to write someting different, something that breaks the mold that we can call truly our own. Marketing departments are skittish about new and different. They like tried and true. They'd push everyone onto the same bandwagon if they could, as long as that bandwagon keeps rolling along. Happy is the writer who's always dreamed of writing a teen paranormal romance in today's market.

I suppose here would be a good place to insert a plea for balance: you know, prostitute ourselves just a little so that we can free up some time for our "real" work. But I'm frankly not so sure.

I'm not sure I could work up a passion to write on a topic I'm not passionate about. Maybe it's just that nobody has dangled a big enough carrot in front of me. But writing still seems like such a mysterious process to me. I don't know where the words come from. I know only that when the passion is there, they come freely. I suspect that whole mysterious process would fall apart for me if I tried to do it minus the passion. The very thought makes me cringe.

So, I guess there we have it: I'm the kind of writer who can't write just for money. I'm the kind of writer who needs to feel invested. I'm the kind of writer who's destined to keep her day job.

Anyway, I'm glad it all worked out for Mickey.