Why Write?


Author Mickey Spillane died last week at age 88. He was the creator of hard boiled detective Mike Hammer.

I don’t recall reading any Mickey Spillane, but I must have. I’m a huge fan of hard boiled detective fiction — a la Chandler and Hammett. But reviewers don’t usually use the names Spillane, Chandler, and Hammett in the same sentence unless it is to comment on how Spillane fails to stack up to the two masters of the genre.

Spillane’s writing has been called “hard boiled boilerplate,” full of cliches and odd visualizations. The critics were not kind to him. But he didn’t write to please the critics. He wrote to make money, as CNN’s obituary piece confirms:

Spillane, a bearish man who wrote on an old manual Smith Corona, always claimed he didn’t care about reviews. He considered himself a “writer” as opposed to an “author,” defining a writer as someone whose books sell.

“This is an income-generating job,” he told The Associated Press during a 2001 interview. “Fame was never anything to me unless it afforded me a good livelihood.”

Which got me thinking.

I’ve often been criticized by writing acquaintances — you know, the folks who want to be authors and are always working on short stories and novels but never actually publishing them — for “selling out.” In their eyes, writing non-fiction (computer how-to books, of all things) isn’t quite as impressive as creating art by writing fiction.

But they obviously don’t understand why I write computer books. It isn’t because I love composing sentences like: “Choose File > Open. The Open dialog appears. Locate and select the file you want to open. Click Open.” It’s because I like to eat, have a roof over my head, and buy cool toys like helicopters.

Yes, it’s true. I write computer books for the same reason most people go to the office every day. The same reason Mickey Spillane wrote books with titles like The Erection Set.

As Spillane once said,

“I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”

Ah, if only I could have as many friends like that.

What do you think?