Do you enjoy the process of creativity? Or are you picturing the black and white photo they’ll use for the dust jacket of your book? Your first interview on NPR? Your Amazon author’s page? We all have egos to feed. Of course, it would be nice to have laurels on which to rest. For some people, that’s international fame and best-seller lists. For others, it’s small presses and accolades from peers. Is this something you think about?
While I was home in northwest Florida recently, I spent some much needed time with a good friend. We were discussing how different our lives are, in comparison to the plans we made in our somewhat misspent youth. Interestingly, we’re both at different stages of answering this same basic question about our art. Did he really want to make films, or be known as a guy who made them? Did I want to be a writer, in the present? What I mean by this is that I had to assure myself that it was the process I wanted. The actual doing of it. I had to really decide if I enjoy showing up at the desk and creating the characters and their messy situations. Writing and editing. Revising. Is it worth the distress, the frustration? It’s a matter of motivation, I suppose.
I have a number of motivations to write. First,there’s the obvious reason: I write to bring some sense of order to the world. Not in the journalistic sense—the what, when, where, why, and how—but in the sense of our shared history. The exploration of world and self, human compassion and cruelty, and all the themes and mysteries associated with it. Our humanity, and how we often abuse and celebrate it. How we relate to each other. The condition. It’s what makes people love fiction, of course. Sure, there’s the entertainment value of a well crafted plot, a good story. But I think it’s the connection, recognizing ourselves and our emotions in the characters, that makes us return to fiction again and again. And, more personally, it helps me understand those things in the context of my own life. Sometimes I read a passage, for the hundredth time, and suddenly realize where it came from, and that I can see it differently now. I know this is perhaps trite and I sound like some pretentious grad student, but it is the truth.
I suppose the second reason is that I’m better at it than a lot of other things. Music, for example, is technically easier for me, but I am not terribly creative with it. I cannot do what my partner does and just jam with any group of musicians I find. My voice is good, but not great. I can write lyrics and compose a melody, and then perform the song with absolute sincerity, but I cannot do that wild and wonderful thing, improvising, that all really good, professional musicians can do. While I am new to writing fiction, I am more creative with it than I am with music—I can recognize and invent decent stories. I certainly need to learn how to do it better—to hone that craft—but I am definitely enjoying the process.
Finally, I enjoy the lyricism of writing. Perhaps this comes from my relationship with music. But when I choose just the right word for a particular sentence, I get this little burst of pleasure. Not so much because I did it, but because those words, by virtue of the language we share, fit together and flow so well and convey exactly what I want them to or, sometimes, what I didn’t realize I was getting at. Granted, this doesn’t happen every day or every time I sit down to write. So when it does, I make sure to savor it. Like the time I was present for a night launch of the space shuttle—I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I felt pride in the accomplishment just the same, because it was something so extraordinary that we humans accomplished. Does this sound ridiculous? Perhaps. But you’ll get it if you’ve ever seen one of those launches, when the night becomes day and the ground rumbles from the force and power of that enormous machine, and you stand there with maybe fifty other people, between the parking lot of a run down La Quinta and a Village Inn, the smoke billowing towards you across the water, silent together in your awe.
So the answer, for me then, is that yes, I do want to be a writer, not to have been one. It is the doing of it that gives me pleasure. So that is what I am, not what I was. And while I’d like to be published in a prestigious journal, what I really want, more than anything, is to write the kind of stories that I want to read. So I persevere.
How about you? Why do you write?