Today I’ve seen a lot of Twitter posts with the hashtag #whyIwrite. I, being the follower that I am, added my tuppence to the meme, but felt like the 140 characters was inadequate.
You see, the thing is that I’ve lately spent a lot of mental energy on this very question. I’ve done this because there are times I honestly feel like I need to write and get published, and get my books read, so that we can have more money.
This is really not okay. I’m not going to say it is bad to be money-motivated in life. Nope. In general, I am motivated to do much of what I do out of a desire to enhance my income– and thus, provide more for my family. That is, I think, a generally and empirically good motivation. Because the truth of the matter is that I am motivated by regard and love for my family, not so much the money that I make from the work I do.
Truth be told, laziness is also a strong motivator for my life, in general. I wish to rest at some point in my life. I intend to take it easy in my dotage; serve some missions; spend time with family. Simply put: I do not want to have to work when I am old enough to retire. So I figure work my brains out now for endless days of laziness later.
Before I go on, I feel I must point out that, yes, I see the problems with much of what I’m saying so far.
- Wanting to provide a ‘better life’ for my family can be taken too far.
- There is plenty of fun and enjoyment to be had even now, during the working years. Living for tomorrow can be a bad thing.
- Seize the day etc.
On we go. So I, like many of you out there, have a variety of motivators that push me to do what it is I do. Now, it has to be said that in the moment, when I’m working on a task, I’m not thinking, “Money, money, money.” Nope, I’m thinking about doing a good job, using my knowledge and training and experience to create something that is exceptional.
Most of the time.
So back to why I write.
This question goes back to when I started reading. I started with The Poky Little Puppy and The Little Engine That Could and my reading has been uphill from there.
I still really dislike The Little Engine That Could. Gah, what a terribly destructive story.
So I read the Black Stallion series, anything else by Walter Farley and then started reading SciFi and Fantasy. I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. Much of my youth was spent trying to find a way to read without being interrupted. Luckily, that meshed well with the cult I grew up in since, in general, they seemed determined to pretend, as much as possible, that the kids didn’t exist.
I started thinking that I could write stories too when I was assigned to write a parallel story. The task was to select a favorite author and adopt that author’s style for a story of one’s own. I chose Robert Ludlum. I loved writing my story. Long after the assignment was graded (I got an A (I’m pretty sure most kids got As on all of what they did in the cult’s school)), I was still working on that book.
I loved figuring out the plot. I wasn’t aware enough of craft to think about goals, scenes, voice and dialogue. (Yes, I still use the -ue for that word. Sue me.) But the action scenes were a blast, as were the sentimental scenes. My hero was tough as carbon steel nails forged in the fires of a Balrog’s temper tantrum.
Yeah, I still haven’t finished that book. It’s handwritten through nearly the first 200 pages.
I haven’t stopped writing for a very significant time ever since. I took AP English-Creative Writing in my one year of public high school. I was an English major for just over a year. I entered, placed in and won contests during college.
But it came to a point in 2004 when I had a thought. Our Taiwan adventure had come to a recent end and we were in Alaska, living with Hotness’s folks, recouping and recovering. The thought I had was, “Wait. Didn’t I plan on being a writer? Maybe it’s time I get going on that.” (Okay, that’s technically two… no three, thoughts. Sue me. I haven’t got anything left after the last time.)
So I started writing in earnest. I churned out several short stories, studied the craft here and there, and fit all of this in to my days while working as a bellman and a full time substitute teacher. It was a very creative time; I still have upwards of ten story ideas on my hard drive, which I haven’t developed, that I think could all be good books. I tried selling stories, but that didn’t go so well.
I hadn’t really studied the craft as well as I ought to have, and short stories are a special type of animal. I had taken some writing classes, which had helped, but there was still much more for me to learn.
Plus, I was a little lazy and allowed myself to think my stories were nearly immaculate on first draft.
But why? Why did I have that thought? (Yes, yes; those three thoughts. Su- Yeah, don’t, you litigating jerks.)
Because I have always felt determined to live a life of dream fulfillment. Heck, have you seen my family? That’s several dreams come true right there. She’s not called Hotness for nothing.
Back to writing. I want to chase dreams and achieve them. I love the feeling of striving for something hard, something that really asks everything of me. Life has been a coast for me: school was too easy, the cult was less abusive to me than to many others, I found my true love on the second try after my mission. Writing and achieving the dream of getting people to read my stuff and love it: that’s a huge challenge. That’s a destiny that I can work out for myself if I really put my all into it.
So I write because it is a test of my mettle.
I don’t think I’d ever thought of it like that– in those exact terms– before. That’s very useful.
I also write because I have a lot of stories to tell. I used to think I could use my anger at the world: a world of cruel cults, a world of poor stewardship of a cherished Mother Earth, a world of random and terrible abuse– to write powerful and moving stories. But when I sat down to do so, it just didn’t happen.
I had stupors of thought. Ever had that happen when you sit down to write and you have an agenda?
A couple years ago I was reflecting on life and what motivated me and why I had such a visibly wonderful life. I realized it was love. I love my wife (I like her, too. A lot. She’s really keen.). I love my kids. I love people (I’m also a fairly introverted) and find that I genuinely like to help them. I love.
So I decided that I would write from love. I would write from charity- which I consider a gift from the Divine.
My intention wouldn’t be to make people angry, or convince people to forgive and buy the world a Coke. (A Coke Cherry Zero? That might be another matter. (BAD ME! No caffeine for the last 8 months. BACK foul toxin!))
My intention would be to write good stories about people who are in extraordinary situations who have to fall back on what is fundamentally them– what is at their core– to make it through. I’d love it if my stories inspired people. I’d love it if my heroes really were seen as heroes by readers.
It doesn’t hurt that my life has been interesting and essentially full of writing ammo. I know I have a unique perspective on much that is normal and day-to-day for many people. That motivates and informs my writing too.
When all is said and done, however, the reason I write is this:
When I’m working in my cubicle, creating the foundation for a learning system or doing some silly data entry or whatever else I do- there’s a sense of fulfillment in that work. But there’s a loneliness and wistfulness too. A longing.
I love my job. I could love it more.
But when I am writing, like last night at the dining table, and the words are flowing hot and smooth, and the characters are acting upon their world and fulfilling their stories– I feel entirely me. Entirely whole. No longing. No wistfulness. I am quintessentially me in those moments. I come out of those grooves and my endorphins are high, I am grinning and energized, and I want to get back to it right away.
I write because I am a writer. This is who I am.
I believe it is hugely important for writers to spend time having conversations with themselves about these issues. Have you done this? Have you clarified your motivations? Do you feel like you need to, or am I just a neurotic ex-cultist?
Why do you write? (Yes, it’s cheaper than therapy.)
Yes, this post is very long. Sue me. And if you do, would you mind getting us on with Judge Alex, please? I’d like to smack his smug face.