Over half-a-decade ago, I was asked the question: WHY DO YOU WRITE BOOKS?
All writers are asked why they write. Often, more than once, and often, the writer fumbles for an answer because s/he hasn’t truly defined the one single reason that s/he writes. This is probably the one question I am asked most often. In many ways, writing is a lonely, isolated profession. Definitely difficult for a people person. The pay is more often lousy, if not nonexistent, than a decent wage for the time and effort expended. The odds of “making it” are daunting. So why do writers do it?
Some say, “I write because I have to write.” This is true, and yet it doesn’t really explain the “why.” Have to. Have to? Is someone holding a gun to your head? Threatening you, if you don’t write? No. So that surface motivator isn’t the one that keeps you putting the pen to the page. Some say, “I enjoy the process.” This, I can tell you, comes from a writer who has yet to suffer slogging through writing books that emotionally drain the writer, tax his or her nerves, and test his or her convictions. Writers seldom enjoy the process. It’s challenging, demanding, and unrelenting in its own right. The enjoyment comes when the process is over and the book is done.
A writer might enjoy the process when the book is proceeding smoothly, but when that initial burst of energy and enthusiasm fades, the writing process becomes work. Demanding, hard work. That can, in a sense, be enjoyable, but it alone is too taxing and too demanding to keep a writer writing books. Something deeper must sustain the writer. Something much deeper.
In a career riddled with a multitude of rejection letters, sporadic sales, and more challenges than rewards, I have often asked myself why I keep putting myself through this. There are far easier ways to earn a living. I gave up a lucrative career to write, one where my earnings were substantially greater than they are now. I switched from writing in a genre where I was well established to write in another, where I was not established. None of the standard answers dug deep enough to truly answer the question–Why do it?
I had to dig deeper. For me, the answer came at the grocery store. (For some reason, I, who do not cook, tend to have epiphanies at grocery stores.) Right there in the aisle between the potato chips and Fruit Loops, the answer to this often-asked question body-slammed me. I write books because I have something to say. Now, I’m not a soapbox queen; no novelist is given that luxury. I mean, I have something to say I want others to hear. Something that will entertain them–always a novelist’s first responsibility–and hopefully, if I dedicate myself to using every single skill I possess wisely–something that will also offer readers an opportunity to see something I’m exploring in the book in a different way. I’ll offer a new perspective, a new insight. Something that will open a door in a reader’s mind that was previously closed. What’s the microscopic view inside this writer’s mind? What fuels my persistence, determination?
An example: Picture it. Your house. January 10, 2000. Freezing rain patters against your roof. You’re snuggled in a warm bed, your husband beside you, your children sleeping soundly in their rooms down the hall. The grandfather clock you inherited from your mother, who had inherited it from hers, chimes three times, and you wonder what little creak awakened you.
Something hard and cold presses against your temple. You snap your eyes open. Soldiers surround your bed and you’re looking down the barrel of an M-16. From the smell, it’s been fired recently. Your heart races, fear bombards you, and you think, This can’t be happening here. I live in a civilized society. This is the new millennium, for God’s sake.
But it is happening here. In your home. At gunpoint, you, your husband, and your children–two teenage sons and a twelve-year-old daughter are driven out of your home into the freezing rain. Your husband and sons are separated from you and your daughter. Your identity is stripped from you–nothing leaves the house that proves who any of you are. You and your daughter are treated violently and told to get out of the country. Walking. In the freezing rain. Without coats or slippers or any other possessions. You begin walking, knowing you’ll never again hear your grandmother’s clock chime. You’re stunned. Have you really just been forced from your home at gunpoint, your family ripped away from you?
You leave what had been your home with nowhere to go, carrying nothing but fear and terror . . . and memories.
Who among us can forget the haunting scenes of the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing? Who among us can not be touched? Man’s inhumanity to man is as difficult to swallow now as it has been throughout the course of human history. We have those who prevent these events. Those who perpetrate them. Those who suffer the fallout from them.
And we have those who are so deeply touched emotionally by them that their lives are never the same. Different perspectives battle inside their minds. They see everyone’s point of view, and no one’s point of view. Nothing–nothing–can justify man’s inhumanity to man.
I write books because, despite our civility and progress and enlightenment, situations such as the one above still happen in our world. I write books because greed and fear still rule, still snuff out the little voice inside us that asks, “What if I were on the receiving end of this act I’m committing? Would I still do it? Would I still consider it just? Essential? An act committed in good faith?”
I write books to explore obstacles and sacrifices, to quiet the nagging little voice inside me that never becomes silent. The voice that insists human beings can coexist without war.
We all bleed.
We all suffer.
We all mourn our dead.
If we can all do that, then we also have the capacity to act in good faith.
Once an idealist, I believed that good works reap only good things. But the world quickly shatters the illusions of simplistic beliefs. Yet the world, even at its worst, can’t kill our dreams or wishes or beliefs. Not unless we choose to let them die. We must choose. And I did. I chose to dream and believe.
Greed and self-interest determine not only the paths of individuals, but of nations. Too few ask: What will best serve all? Too many ask: What will best serve me?
And yet, we continually see acts of goodness and kindness–proof humanity still lives. We see others, who have little, opening their arms and homes, sharing their meager possessions (material and emotional and spiritual) with those in need. For the rest of us, these acts spark the hope that resides in all of us to keep striving, to keep caring about not just ourselves, but about all of us. I write because human beings need hope.
To foster change, we must be aware of the challenges in our world and of the events and of the people who spark hope. I refuse to give up on us. I refuse to accept that we are not made of sterner stuff, that we must accept what we are told is an inevitable truth: So long as there are men, there will be greed. And so long as there is greed, there will be no peace.
Perhaps a little of the idealist still exists inside me. Perhaps it is the nurturer of the little voice. And perhaps there is an inevitable truth in the link between greed and peace in mankind. But that one link is not all of the truth.
Peace can begin with a single individual, with a lowly writer who has something to say she wants others to hear. If she has the courage to open her soul and share her visions of challenges and obstacles and constructive solutions, some who hear will “get” it. Some won’t. But of those who do, some will find their own little voices awakened. And awakened, they will no longer be content in apathy, and they will awaken others. We can’t diminish the impact of the ripple effect, nor should we underestimate how many sparks are required to light an eternal flame of hope.
Even in the face of adversity, this lowly writer respects the human race enough to dredge up the courage and dare to hope. That is the something I have to say. I dare to hope. And that is why I write books.
Why do you do what you? Do you know? If you do, you have a wonderful sword with which to meet the challenges that will inevitably confront you in the course of your career. Everyone encounters challenges. Regardless of how successful, how great everything appears publicly. No one is exempt from challenges. Ever.
Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is one of your strongest assets. It is the foundation upon which you place your professional future. It is also the foundation upon which you define your life and your character.
These treasures are precious assets, the very root of unshakable faith in your work and in yourself.
If you don’t know why you do what you do, dig. Slice through the veneer and easy answers and keep digging until you get down to the one single reason that keeps you devoted and determined. That one reason is your armor, and your spark of hope.
We all need hope. We all have the ability to change people’s lives through our interactions, our examples, our comprehension and recognition and our compassion.
With hope, that change is for the better.
And that’s why I write books.
Now, in 2008, I’ve revisted the question WHY DO YOU WRITE BOOKS? and I’ve shortened my rationale into three words that exemplify all of those reasons and more to me:
Affirmation. Confirmation. Inspiration
Affirmation that we, what we do, and the way we do it are worthy of time and effort–our lives.
Confirmation that we are not alone. Others who came before us and who will follow us experience the same types of challenges and triumphs we face. We all can learn and teach each other.
Inspiration because so much in life–even things that are hard to endure–is good.
I write to affirm, confirm and inspire.
I dare to write to spark hope.
Whatever you do, know why you do it. Know that you are spending your life so that at its end, you’ll look back and say, “Yes, it was well lived…”