Why do we write?
It’s a question that cuts to the core of our very soul and could possibly be considered one of the most important any author ever has to face.
What drives us to write? What is our ambition; perhaps even our sole ambition?
Many authors freely admit that their only goal is to be pleased with the work themselves. To be blunt: they write merely for the sake of writing. They may never have another person read their work, but as long as they like what they write, that is good enough.
This kind of writing mentality is very popular these days and it’s often repeated as supportive advice to aspiring authors who are worried that their work won’t be quite good enough for publication. On the outset, of course, it sounds very good.
After all, some people will probably hate what you wrote. Yes, I said hate. There isn’t a work of art, film or literature that someone out there in this wide world doesn’t hold great disdain for.
And what will get you through all that? The fact that “you” believe in your story. After all, as an excellent example, even J. K. Rowling was told Harry Potter of all books would be a flop. Crazy now in retrospect, but back then she had to believe in it for it to be what it is today. She, alone, had to believe in it against all odds.
So, at face value, the inspirational comment told to so many writers seems true at its heart.
But, alas, there are drawbacks to this.
To begin with, if one writes only for ones self, it would seem to me that that said writer has very little care about the opinion of others. He, as a result probably has little care for the advice of an agent or editor. Furthermore, he probably doesn’t care one way or another whether he gets published at all. If by chance others like his work too, he can celebrate. Otherwise, it really doesn’t matter.
Through this process, the writer of this mindset appears to be quite self-absorbed. He/She is trapped in a bubble and perfectly content to remain within it.
“There is this disconnect between the ideal of writing for yourself and the reality of needing people to read it for the writing to be fully worth the time and effort,” writes Tyler Braun on his blog “Man of Depravity”.
“If that’s the end goal, to write for yourself…keep a diary and don’t let anyone read it. If your writing is going to be read by others, you have to write for them, not you. If you’re writing only for yourself, why share it? Why publish it in spaces where others would read it?”
To further this point, an author wrote a comment to Mr. Braun’s article: “I’m working on a book and my initial introduction said “I’m not writing this book for you, I’m writing it for me.” When my agent read it he said, “that may have been the introduction you needed to write to propel you into writing this piece, but if people are spending $10 on a book, it darn well better be for them.”
This mentality builds up the mindset for the writer that their opinion matters first and foremost above all others. Yet, as any seasoned writer well knows, our opinions can often be misguided or downright wrong. It’s through the process of critiques, edits, and brainstorming that we reshape what we write, usually thanks to the help of others who can see what we cannot.
If a writer takes this way of thinking to heart, they’ll never seek to improve their book. After all, they’ll be content with it. They’ll never care to have it reviewed for critiques and edits, since after all, they’re content as it is. And so, it follows, that when their book is rejected by a publisher, the person will feel vindicated in their belief that “they just don’t understand my talent.”
But is this truly what we want? Should we actually encourage this?
All I can do, in opposition, is state my personal feelings on the matter. I won’t pretend to play the almighty judge and inquisitor on this subject, even if on this blog, that is my right. This is instead an open question that I want everyone in the publishing industry to ask themselves in private.
As for me, I can honestly say, much to the contrary of the previous line of thinking, that I would not write anything if there wasn’t someone who would eventually read it.
That’s right. I wouldn’t write a thing, books or otherwise, if there weren’t others who’d read it too.
But why? Why can’t I be content with just myself?
It probably has a little to do with what drives me to put pen to paper.
I feel inspired every time I read a good book. Whether its by the philosophical motorcycle speeding escapades of Keiichi Sigsawa or the futuristic totalitarian teenage angst driven Suzanne Collins, I feel for that moment in time as if the author has connected with my soul in a way otherwise not possible.
That imprint a good book leaves, has in my experience, never left at any time. “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” was powerful to me in the 4th Grade, and still is even now.
Because of that life changing ability of books, I feel an intense obligation to, at the very least, attempt to do the same. Perhaps my stories won’t be as defining as others, but if my only contribution to another reader is a smile to brighten their day or a thought that haunts their mind for the evening, than I feel like I have given a little back.
I don’t write for my ego. I don’t just write for the sake of having the ability.
I write because I am a storyteller. And stories, at their core, are meant to be shared.
Now, don’t misread me. I am not claiming that it’s wrong to continue writing even when others around you disapprove. I actually think that the advice about writing for yourself has some truth to it. We cannot, as writers, fall into the trap of writing solely for the sake of others. We ourselves must believe and love what we produce. As a friend of mine stated clearly, “I wouldn’t write something I hated, even if everyone loved it.”
But should we just write because we can, because we like our own work? Does it stop there? Will that be our one and only ambition?
Or should we write because deep down inside we want to do for a reader exactly what another author did for us?