by Gar Anthony Haywood

The book I’m writing at present is not the one I should be writing.  The book I should be writing is one far more likely to sell.  A book with a high concept, or one featuring a new character around whom I could build a “franchise.”  Instead, I’m writing the seventh book in my Aaron Gunner private eye series, a novel that fits the description of a can’t-miss bestseller about as well I fit that of an Osmond brother.

Why?  Because I want to.

Sorry, but that’s the only real reason I’ve got.  I haven’t written a book about Gunner in ages and I miss the man.  I had a great idea for an opening that turned into a great idea for a Gunner novel and I simply couldn’t find the will to put off writing it.  I’ve been far more calculating about my book projects than this in the past, on a number of occasions, but for the most part, this is how I’ve always operated: chasing the joy, not the dime.

I know I’m not alone in taking this ass-backwards route to success, but I wonder just how many bestselling authors have had it pay off?  Is anybody making real money and having fun writing at the same time?  Doing only what they want to do, without exception?

God, I hope so.

Because I can’t write worth a damn if I’m not having fun.  I’ve tried writing like an adult, with the detached efficiency of a plumber running pipe or an insurance salesman hawking life-term policies, and I hate it.  Writing for me is a slog under the best circumstances, and having fun — yes, fun — is the only way I get through it.  My need to write is all about the stories I feel compelled to tell, not the bills I’m obligated to pay.  The long-term dream for me has never been as simple as to make a living writing; the dream has always been to someday have it both ways: to write exactly what I want to write, each and every time out of the box, and make a damn good living doing it.

Evidence to date would suggest I’m just kidding myself, but that’s okay.   Hope springs eternal.

So I’m writing Gunner Number 7 and loving it.  It’s hard work, and some days it feels like I’m trying to pull a cow on a leash through a field of quicksand — but I don’t mind.

It’s my cow, and it makes me feel good.

10 thoughts on “THE FUN FACTOR

  1. Gerald So

    Good luck, Gar. Great to hear you're writing about Gunner again.

    As a poet, I know all about writing for the love of it. There's a good chance my work will be most noticed after I'm gone, but that's no reason *not* to write from the heart, if only to leave behind the best representation of the life I led. The real shame is that we won't hear from so many people who've talked themselves out of doing what they'd love.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    What is this "fun" of which you speak?

    I can only say the relief of not having to write to producers' specifications is liberating enough to keep me going. But fun… not the word I'd use.

  3. Gar Anthony Haywood


    If your writing to date represents you NOT enjoying the writing process, I shudder to think what you'd produce if you were to ever cut loose. You're good enough as it is.

    But as you point out, all things are relative. As I'm sure Stephen would agree, writing for one's self after having to do the bidding of Hollywood producers has to feel akin to breaking out of Rikers.

  4. David Corbett


    Having done both "creative" and "hired gun" projects, I can agree with you unqualifiedly that the former are preferable. But there are ways to bring some of the passion or interest, if not exactly the fun, to the hired gun projects.

    I'm having this discussion with one of my students in my UCLA extension course right now. He's a screenwriter who pretty much sees stories as assemble-the-parts projects. And yet he's taking my course because he liked one of my books, especially the characters, and realized his were a little thin.

    I tried to get him (with the rest of the class) to identify the themes that touch him deeply, and to write from there. He completely blew off the project, taking the "craftsman" (plumber) approach you mention — and using the old William Goldman line as justification, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union."

    But especially when it comes to character, I just don't think you can phone it in. You have to find some deep connection with the material or you're just slathering paint on a wall.

    If you're not moved, the reader won't be either. And however you get there is fine. but pretending you're there when you're not fools just about no one but yourself.

    BTW: I think a new Aaron Gunner novel sounds perfect.

  5. Gar Anthony Haywood


    When you're a writer-for-hire, the trick is to find the unique take on the material only you can bring to it — "Yeah, it's just another episode of THE MENTALIST, but it's the only one _I_ could have written." Not easy, but it can be done.


    Never fear. CEMETERY ROAD was the hardest book to write I've ever taken on, pretty much from first page to last, and I think it's my best piece of work. The fun only happened during editing, when I was able to recognize how good some of my stuff was and could feel happy about it.

  6. Allison Davis

    Gar, I'll buy it. There, at least one sale. Writing antitrust treatises, which I do sometimes as part of my work, that's not so fun, but it's writing. I am happy to do it, and glad when it's good.
    Working on my manuscript, cow-through-quicksand fun, yeah! Enticing the cow. New metaphor.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I am so with you on this, Gar. I've bounced back and forth on writing the book my agent wants me to write, and not writing the book he doesn't think will sell, and I've finally settled on writing the third book of my Hayden Glass series, which he told me not to write. It was so much easier when I simply wrote what I wanted to write, and wrote it for myself, without thinking of whether it would sell. I'm kicking myself for not writing the "smaller" thriller, set in the CA Central Valley, which I was passionate about, but dropped because I was supposed to be focusing on that big, international thriller. We have so little time to write – it's a shame we don't write exactly what we want. It's made me ambivalent about writing at all. I intend to renew my passion for writing this year. My goals are to maintain a stable lifestyle and gradually become a productive author again, writing what makes me happy.
    Congratulations on sticking up for yourself, man!

  8. PD Martin

    In some ways, any writing makes me happy. I even enjoyed my corporate gig as a corporate writer. However, writing MY stuff is much more fun but also more complicated. Mostly because I want to only spend time on that AND make a living from it. As it happens, this is the topic of my blog tomorrow (which I wrote last week when it was in my head).

    Gar, glad to hear you're writing what makes you happy and having fun doing it!

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