Years ago my nephew, vacationing in Africa, wrote us 17 pages ecstatically describing his visit. The writing wasn’t Hemingway, but I loved it like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” He’s never written us another letter, just brief e-mails now and then letting us know he’s alive and the weather in Madrid is very hot/very cold. I nag him for more letters (he travels a lot), but he’s Spanish and won’t do anything unless he enjoys it.

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” (Gene Fowler) OK if you enjoy feeling bad, but I’m with Bukowski: “…if it's hard work just thinking about doing it, / don't do it.”

It is a peculiarly American, pragmatist notion that we can study, work hard (until we sweat blood), and succeed at anything, even writing. Thus, our universities establish creative writing faculties where writers teach the sweating of blood to earnest students. It’s not a trend other countries indulge in. We end up with many well-written book-length exercises in soulless craftsmanship and every now and then, something else, something that shows “talent,” a concept no one wants to believe in, because some of us have it and most of us don’t, and that’s just not fair.

It doesn’t matter anyway; if you like to write, then write. Learn the techniques, the language. It’s all joy. But if you ever manage to get published—and it took me only twenty years—99.9 percent chances are you won’t make a dime, and you’ll be long dead before proof of talent can be credibly established. You’d better be writing for the fun of it.