Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why Write?

Something has happened. I'm virtually certain that I've written more words in the last two weeks than I've written in any such period during the last twenty years. Now, I don't think I can keep this up as an everyday thing. It does give me reason to believe that I can make NaNoWriMo work. The writing over the last two weeks has involved three stories, some revisions to earlier stories, and several blog posts. For NaNo, I'll have one particular "world" to work with and if I do appropriate pre-planning, I think I'll be able to make it through.

But it's also had me wondering why I'm writing so much. Why, in fact, I write at all. I can say that I'm not 100% certain I know the answer to that question.

I'd already started thinking about this topic -- in fact, I'd already started a draft of this blog post -- when I had a conversation with a friend about my recent writing which really reflected what I'd been trying to work out on my own head.  This friend is not a writer. In fact, it's safe to say that the idea of writing is something she finds uncomfortable. And yet, when she was asking about my own recent writing endeavors, I was hard-pressed to explain what motivated them.

Some writers talk about feeling compelled to write, as if not writing is like keeping things bottled up inside them. I know that writing is not like that for me. After all, I've taken breaks of multiple years from writing before.

I also know that I'm not doing it for the money. Well, not really.  I guess I'm sort of doing it for the money, because I have little interest in having stories published in markets which don't pay at all. But, on the other hand, realistically I know that whatever I'm likely to earn from writing will almost certainly be -- at best -- the third-string stream of income into our household.  Also, if I were wanting to make money from writing, I'd probably be spending more time on non-fiction than fiction.

For me, I think that a large part of it is that I'm writing because I view it as a challenge and an opportunity for achievement. When we're kids, there are always achievements to strive for -- honor rolls, athletic trophies, academic awards, perfect attendance. As adults, a lot of that fades into the background. No one is going to hand you a certificate for getting up and getting your kids on the bus every morning of the school year. You might get some verbal thanks for a job well done at treating a patient, or fixing the wiring in someone's home, or getting a database query to perform properly but you're probably not going to be giving a medal or even have your name written up in a newsletter.

But, if an editor looks at something you've written and says "I want that for my magazine/publishing house/website."  Well, that's a bit of validation. A small victory. Is that a childish way to look at the world? To still want that external validation? I'm not sure -- but I do think it's a large part of why I write.

There's more to it, of course. I know I'd love to hold a copy of one of the "big" digest magazines with a story of mine in it. It would be something permanent and tangible, sort of like I was talking about in the Publishing post, it would be something that grandchildren could look at, that you might see someone reading on the bus. And I also like the idea that other people could get enjoyment from ideas I've created from nothing, just like I've gotten enjoyment from other peoples' ideas.

In the end -- does it matter why we write? I think that it does help to be aware of your own motivations, as it can help you through the times when it's hard to write. It may be that understanding that motivation is part of what moves writing from being a hobby to being something more.

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