Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why do you write?

I suppose some people write in order to become famous or to become rich. These seem to be powerful motivators these days. To become rich has probably always been a strong motivator, but to be famous? I think that’s relatively new. It is easier today in some ways than it ever was, in the sense that the opportunity for fame (however brief one’s moment in the spotlight) is available to almost everyone, via the internet. Do something really stupid, film it with your phone and post it on You Tube, et voilĂ . Of course, the competition is also very fierce, and something or someone else is always ready to steal your limelight. And what, in the end, does it get you, anyway? Maybe some money, if you are lucky. Probably a deep despair when the moment has passed.

Some people may write because they have a message to convey, or a point to get across. Among my followers on Twitter are many people who describe themselves as Christian writers, or who claim to write Christian fiction of one kind or another. I guess they want their writing to convey something of that particular message. I am not completely free of this motivation. Not of the Christian variety. But, over the years, I think I have learned a few things, gained a few insights, and these end up in my stories. It is not so much that I want to convert people towards a particular point of view, or teach them anything. It’s just that I want to see if other people connect with these experiences. I love it when I am reading a book and I am seized momentarily by that feeling: “Ah yes, that is soooo true.” So I guess I would like to think that my writing contains something of this multi-faceted, elusive thing called “truth”.

Others, and perhaps most, write because of the sheer joy of creativity. There are those who write a particular book, in a particular style, because that is what happens to be selling in today’s market. It is a business, and they are producing a product for sale. All of us would like our books to sell. But for many of us it is the process of writing itself that is satisfying; sales are a delightful bonus. This is as much because other people like what we have written, and are even prepared to pay for the opportunity to read it, as it is about the money itself. Getting a sentence just right is a very good feeling. In La Peste, by Camus, there is a character, Joseph Grand, who is writing a book. However, he can never get past the opening sentence. He constantly writes and rewrites this first sentence, searching for the correct noun, verb and adjective. As much as one recognises the satirical element here, I could not help feeling that Grand delighted in the process of playing with the words, relishing their different combinations, enjoying the different flavours and sounds that were created by changing a word here or there. I hope I am not as bad as this, but it really is worth wrestling with a phrase or sentence, rewriting it again and again, until the rhythm, sound and feeling is just right. I love it when I sense this in someone else’s writing. This is what, for me, transforms a good story into good writing. Sometimes the good writing is more important, to me, than the story. In this, I sometimes feel that I stand alone.

So why do you write?


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