Friday, March 18, 2011

...without Answers (part 2)

I was in my daughter's class, this morning, reading from my book, The House on the Corner (shameless plug: remember, you can buy a copy of your very own over at the link on the right!). It's so very enjoyable to read to them and get laughter at the appropriate places and all of that. It made me think, again, about this question about why writers write. Not that I haven't been thinking about it. I've been working on this post for, what? a month, now. Scrapped it twice and started over. It's just not an easy question to answer. I mean, really. It's a rather insane thing to go about doing, when you look at it, and I can only think of two other professions that are possibly worse: stand up comic and politician. Oh, wait, make that one other profession.

I think it breaks down into two basic motivators: 1. the desire to fulfill self  and 2. the desire to bring enjoyment to others. I think it's probably a continuum with one of those at either end with each individual writer struggling somewhere in the middle. Probably moving back-and-forth on the slider, probably on a daily basis.

Authors must have inherently fragile egos. Writing becomes a safe way, of sorts, to get positive reinforcement without actually risking anything. I mean, you just automatically get all kinds of ego stroking by even mentioning that you write without ever having to deliver up anything that you've actually written. Most people view writing as some sort of "magical" task that they could never do; therefore, if you write, it already elevates you in their eyes. Even if you suck. Or if you never ever finish anything.

I had this friend in high school that was one of those attention seeking individuals. Okay, I had a lot of those kinds of friends, the kind that cause drama just so they can be in the middle of it, but I had this one friend, in particular, that was always onto some new quirky thing so that people would tell him how great they thought he was. He declared, at one point, that he was vegetarian, way before it was a "thing" to be vegetarian. Fast food places didn't have vegetarian options. At Burger King, during the middle of his vegetarian kick, while we were there with a big group of us (12 or 15 teenagers), he order a Whopper. Hold the meat. Really. Made sure everyone knew he was doing it, too. Writing is like that. The introverts way of shouting "hey! hey! look at me!" Not that I'm saying that all writers are introverts, surely that's not true. But it is a rather introverted way to spend one's time, and, in my experience, people with writing aspirations are introverts.

On the other end of that, you have people that want to entertain. Yes, yes, many people would say that the root of the desire to entertain is to be at the center of attention. You know, to get your ego strokes. Which goes back to fulfillment of self. And, probably, many people would say that that really is the base reason that anyone wants to be an entertainer of any kind. But I don't think that's true. When I'm reading to my kids or in a class at my kids' school, I have no thought at all of what I'm getting out of it. I just enjoy their enjoyment. Yes, I enjoy it, but it's like a byproduct. I'm not being motivated by my enjoyment; I only want them to enjoy it. That's why the continuum. Sometimes, it is all about having people tell me what a good job they think I've done, but other times, I just don't care about that. I just want to have made something that other people will enjoy.

It's a hard struggle to deal with.

There's one other motivation that I have, and I'm not really sure where it fits in, and I'm not sure if other people have this or not, so I'd really like to hear from anyone that does. The motivation is this: "I can do that. I can do that better than [insert name of author here], in fact." And, then, I think, if I can really do that better, then I should.

But what about me? Why do I write? In general. Not just the book I've already written, which was dealt with in part 1 of this question about writing.

My first urge to write came around the age of 10. I was already being told by my teachers that I was a good writer, and I made straight As and all of that. But... well, I got into reading the Hardy Boys, and, somewhere in there, I thought, "I want to do that. I want to write one of these." Not that I wanted to write a Hardy Boys book, but I wanted to do something like that. So I did. Or, at least, I started to. I'm not sure how long I worked on it, but I do know that I was close to filling up a spiral notebook with my little story when it happened. My mother found my manuscript. I just want to point out here that I didn't leave it laying around, either. It was private to me. I wasn't finished with it, and I hadn't told anyone about it. I didn't want anyone to know until I was finished. But my mother, in digging around in my room, which she still did when I was that age and hadn't learned, yet, to tell her to keep out of my stuff, found it. And read it. And confronted me with it. And the totality of her response to it was, "Did you think of all those names [of the characters] all by yourself?" Which was the worst thing she could have said, because I felt like I had done an inadequate job naming the characters. I wasn't satisfied with that part of my story at all. So it ended in the trash can, and I didn't try writing, again, for a very long time. You know, beyond what you have to do for school, which I was very good at, always earning top marks. I was even published a few times in a local publication for school age writers, but those things that were published, I wrote because they were assigned, not because I had any driving desire to write. I'd given that up when I threw that project in the trash.

Wrapped up in all of that is the desire to leave something behind. How cool would it be, after all, to have something that you wrote pulled off the shelf in some house somewhere 100 years after you're dead? I think each of has that desire at some point in our lives. To write. To paint. To make music. To build. To make something that will last beyond us. Reality has a way of squashing those dreams in most of us, though, as we figure out that it, often enough, it's difficult just to survive and icing if we actually get to partake at all in that whole "pursuit of happiness" thing. Or maybe it's just that we all want to be rock stars.

Of course, we all go through the stage, at some point, usually during the teen years, when we want to be a great poet. We meet that girl or that guy and, gee, all we want to do is to be able to channel Shakespeare. But I chalk that more up to hormones than any genuine desire to be a writer.

Through the years, I've played around at writing. I was in the "Writers' Guild" when I was in college. It was all rather pretentious, but we didn't know it, at the time. It was fairly centered around poetry, too, and pretty much all crap. We didn't know that, either. I started my second book (if you count the one when I was 10 as my first) in my early 20s while I was substitute teaching. I still have that around, somewhere, and I think it was a good story, but I never finished it, and it's no longer relevant in quite the same way that it was, then. There have been others.

In the end, though, I was reading a book by a popular genre author that kept being suggested to me, and my reaction to it goes back to that other motivation I mentioned. "I can do that. In fact, I can do a lot better than that." Because, honestly, that book was... well, I have no kind word for it, but I kept thinking "how did this get published?" And, then, someone told me that the series in question doesn't actually get good until you get to the 3rd or 4th book, and I wondered how anyone ever made it that far into it to find that out. Basically, though, it came down to actually doing what I kept saying I could do. Because it doesn't matter if you think you can do it and let that be enough. If you don't do it, you have proven that you can't do it. I decided that it was time to actually do  it.

So... there you have it; my great non-answer to the question of why writers write. The truth is, I don't know. What I do know is that if money is a motivating factor, you should go home and rethink your life. I just saw a statistic that says that only 3 people out of 1000 seeking to be published will be published and only 1 of those will ever make enough money from it to be considered a "living wage." Beyond that, I don't know why people choose this path. It's long and hard, and, from the statistic, you can see that 997 of 1000 people just give up. I only know why I do it.

Because I can.
And, well, at this point, because, if I don't, my kids will never forgive me.

Special Fetures:
As I said, I started and re-started this post several times. Because I did some research into this next bit, and because I think it has some bearing on what this is all about, although I couldn't get it to fit within the context of the final piece, I'm letting you have a look at it. A peek at the process. We'll just call this a

Deleted Scene:

I think the pretentious answer is probably something along the lines of "I write because I have to." Or "I can't live without it." Okay, so let's step back and look at the question, again, because I can actually accept those answers for being an impetus to write; however, I can't accept them as an answer as to why someone writes and seeks to get published as being published is in no way related to the actual writing. Maybe, the actual question should be "why would someone want to be a Writer?" We'll define Writer as someone who qualifies as a professional writer. Someone who makes his/her living at it. And, to simplify things, someone who writes fiction and/or poetry.

Let's look at Emily Dickinson. She's very often propped up as the epitome of the writer who wrote because she had to do it but didn't want to be a Writer. I don't think I agree with that. Although it wasn't until after her death that it was discovered just how much she'd written, she didn't keep her writing to herself. In fact, she was actually published during her lifetime and was in constant communication with a number of men both in and out of literary circles with whom she shared her work. Often with the sole purpose of seeking praise. I think she wanted to be a Writer but was agoraphobically afraid of the possibility of fame. Instead, she assembled manuscript books of her works that were discovered after her death. Clearly, there was desire, however latent, to have her works become books, which she loved. She just couldn't cope with the idea of that happening to her while she was alive, so she prepared it for after her death. She sought out and received enough positive feedback for her writing to sustain her through her life without actually being published.


  1. Someone wrote this down in a forum I belong to. It was her entry in a thread about why people write (expressed in six words): "Write it down. Set it free." :D

  2. Hmm... but what happens when you set it free and it just lays there? :P

  3. Then you kick it out of the nest...or substitute your foot for a balloon launcher. :D