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WHY DO WE WRITE? REVISITED

February 6, 2013

            In an article last year titled Write Write Write, I brought up the question, Why do we write? Recently, that question came up with someone close who had a great idea for a genre fiction series. She has what she believes is a dynamite idea and wants to run with it.

            After we got through the usual explanations of copywrite and why she doesn’t need to just yet, the discussion came down to why she wanted to do this in the first place.

            I asked her point blank. “Why do you want to write this story? This series?”

            She thought about it a minute. “I think it’s a great idea.”

            Then I presented her with the big question: Motivation. “That’s all fine and dandy. However, just because it’s a great idea doesn’t mean you should be writing it. Why do you want to write it? What do you expect to get out of it? Do you want to write it because it’s something inside you that needs to come out? Or, do you want to write it because you think this idea will make you a million bucks?”

            That rather wordy but necessary question gave her pause. I knew it would, and that was the point. Knowing what writing is all about and having gone into this game for what I think is the right reasons, I wanted to see what she would say.

            “I’m not sure.”

            Bingo.

            She’s already written a few pages. I reviewed them and gave her a few pointers. Time has been her biggest problem so far. Writing is a commitment and there has to be a reason to continue. She hasn’t been able to get back to this story for a while and just started thinking about it again.

            I honestly don’t believe making money is a good enough reason to go on because the chances of this great idea panning out, no matter how great it might be, are slim. It can happen if you believe in yourself and keep at it, but like I can testify to, it doesn’t always happen or always happen fast. If your motivation is money, you might as well quit right now and find another hobby, because that’s all this really is to most of us, a hobby.

            I asked her, “Do you enjoy writing? Do you enjoy creating the big lie? Will you enjoy tearing apart your masterpiece and redoing it from the ground up? Will you be able to accept when others with experience tell you it isn’t that good, or you are making massive mistakes? Will you still enjoy it then?

            I gave her something to think about. She only nodded. I think she may come around and continue with this project. My aim isn’t to scare her away from her great idea. However, the last thing I want is to see her doing it for the wrong reasons. To be a writer, you have to love writing. I do. If I didn’t, I’d wouldn’t be here writing these weekly articles. Putting out the stories on my web page, writing the Observer’s Challenge for the LVAS, popping out a short story when I feel like it. Or, maybe coming up with a new idea for a novel but having to shelve it because I’m already in the middle of another one.

            Finally, I asked her, are you ready for agents and/or publishers to tell you they think your fantastic idea is stupid? Or tell you your idea doesn’t excite them? Maybe even tell you your idea might have merit if you change it so and so? Are you ready for the humiliation of a nasty critique or rejection?

            I gave her some questions to ponder. In fact, I told her not to even try to answer them yet. Stew on it for awhile. As writers, especially those of you that haven’t read my earlier articles, have you asked yourselves these questions? Why do you do this self-torture, as some like to call it? Nothing about it is self-torture to me. I even like the editing! I write first for myself, for the pleasure of creating something special. Whether it pans out and someone else likes it is secondary. If I can sell it, so much the better. When it comes to the point where I start selling lots of books, I can focus on pleasing my fan base.

            I’m still waiting to hear her answer.

            How about you?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2013 4:05 am

    Fred, I like your title, “WHY DO WE WRITE? Of course your article is also admirable.

    I was painting the house after my retirement and got an idea about a boy and his dog, both who played the bass drum. I got down from my ladder and began putting down my new thoughts on the computer. It had never been my intention to write anything during my entire life as I thought I didn’t have the ability. To my surprise I got through the first page, then wrote and wrote, finally ending up with an eight story series about “The Adventures of Nick & Knobby.” It had never entered my mind to send them to a publisher for monetary gain or fame. But I had made an incredible discovery, my mind had endless stories that flowed for years, all beginning at age 60. I worked and studied my old grammar books and punctuation to improve myself and joined critique and author groups for the next 20 years. From day one I was immensely helped by many kind people who also wanted to become writers and those who were already published. In the midst of writing 38 children’s stories I decided to write the story of my life as a big band musician, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era.” It was for my son, David, who I wanted to know about my growing years and the deep personal struggles I had to get through them. Again the book was only for him and no one else. I had spent 16 months of my life writing it and loved every moment of it except the last three months where past experiences and ghosts began to disturb my psyche. I kept the book to myself for a year when word got out to my family I had written it and my sister and two nephews wanted copies. In a moment of weakness I printed out three copies for them and within a few months received emails from other relatives who had also read it, saying how great the book was and should be published. Of course they had no idea what was entailed getting a book published. I had written all my books out of pure enjoyment and the thought of going through the process of getting a publisher was anathema to me. I partially relented when my wife convinced me to have it self-published which I did, and I’m glad I I listened to her. It was reviewed by” Midwest Book Review,” who gave it “Highly recommended.” It also received FIVE STARS from amazon.com. Through my publisher, Finale Publishing, “Diary” and all 38 of my children’s stories plus a narrated CD of them, “Felix the Storyteller,” is in Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony and many others. I’m not making much money but I’m still promoting them in a variety of ways. Promoting full-time is for younger people and my days are over in that respect. What I do promote is minimal but it’s working to a degree. If you really believe in yourself and want to make it as a published author, the secret is, never give up.

    • February 7, 2013 2:10 am

      Felix,

      Well said! It was a wonderful bio too. I really enjoyed it. Same with the children’s stories I’ve read with my grandson. You did it for all the right reasons. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You wrote because you wanted to, you loved it. Writing can be that, it can also be a catharsis for some people which is something I forgot to mention in the article. However, to be a continual writer, to keep at it, you have to love it for what it is, for what you create. Getting published is secondary.

      You’ve had some success. Bravo!

      Always great to hear from you. You are the best!

      Fred

  2. Peggy West permalink
    February 16, 2013 7:23 pm

    Thank you for your posts, Fred and Felix. Do we write each piece for the same reason? I wrote my first novella, “Shoes on the Wire”, because I wanted an explanation for family and friends as to why in 1965 my mother rather cavalierly pulled my brothers and me, age 11, out of a middle class life and plunged us into a big city housing project. I am now writing a historical romance set in 1840 just to see if I can do it. Does the latter reason count? I’m not planning to sell it. I wanted to learn to explain a psychological dynamic in words. Does that count, too?

    • February 16, 2013 8:33 pm

      Dear Peggy,

      We all have our own reasons for writing, naturally all different or it would be a boring world of reading. Our families affect who we are in life and that in turn will affect your style of writing. You mother must have had a good reason for your dramatic change of life. I have a feeling it might have given you a deeper understanding of life that will help you with your writing. My family came from very poor circumstances but my mother and father had class that carried over to the rest of the family, especially my five sisters. When I wrote my autobiography my background played an important role in the book as it will with yours. Before you begin your book immerse yourself deeply by reading as much as you can about that period. Your writing will flow and come out naturally so readers will feel they’re there, a part of that world and time. After you finish the book, make all the necessary corrections, and then I would advise letting it sit on your desk for three to six months. When you reread the book you’ll know if it’s good or not. By that time your whole attitude about it will be different. Do the necessary editing and try shortening it, it will make it a stronger and better book, then send it to a publisher. Good luck Peggy and enjoy yourself, that’s what it’s all about.

      • February 17, 2013 1:11 am

        Felix,

        Well spoken! Research is key, especially when a real time period is involved because someone will surely call you on something that isn’t right. As I tell her too, once the purging of the soul is out of the way, and she has finished that already and moved on to a challenge writing piece, now we’re getting into excuses to write. Once we get into that territory, then we’re talking about someone who actually likes to write and should just do it and forget about excuses. There must be some kind of fun behind it. Like you said, enjoy it and move on!

        Fred

    • February 17, 2013 1:07 am

      Peggy,

      We write for all kinds of reasons. We CONTINUE writing because it’s in our blood, it becomes our passion. Since you are now working on a “challenge,” it sounds like you’ve already gone past the purging of the soul and have moved on to more than an idle interest. My suggestion is to get it all down on virtual paper, ether, electronic digits, whatever… if you feel like it then, start editing, or like Felix says in the next message, shelve it for a few months and go back to it with a fresh perspective. Or, if you are in a writer’s group, or seek to join one, start reading it to them and get feedback. You can either tell them what you want to accomplish, or tell them nothing and see what they say to get their unvarnished opinions. Either way, if you get good feedback, use it. If you start getting harsh and nasty comments, run, don’t walk out that door and NEVER come back to that group!

      If you can’t or don’t want to join a group, you still need a beta reader eventually. However, before we even get there and to get back to your question, it sounds like your motivations have changed from purging your soul and providing answers to just taking up a challenge. Once the challenge is done, if you desire to continue writing something else, I’d say you’re a writer because by then you will just be finding more excuses to keep on writing and there’s no point anymore. Just write!

      Fred

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