Saturday, January 28, 2006

Why DO You Write?

Why do we write?
Gone are the days when writing was perceived simply as one of the natural and expected accomplishments of people of a certain class and education.
Perhaps that is why Sir Walter Raleigh is remembered more for his cloak act than for his poetry.
Some writers have made introspective data the foundation of their entire career.
The observable evidence of this peculiar organismic activity is the source of much salon talk.
Some of the standard accusations, condemnations, excuses or rationalizations are as follows:

1. Money, Riches and Horatio Alger.
This motive comes in for the usual disdain - one must not be bougeois commercial, one must write for love and high art. The idea is also used to illustrate the remarkable self-delusion of beginners - along with the tolerant suggestion that they should purchase lotto tickets instead.

2. Fame - a before or aft of Fortune (see above)
The dream of becoming a literary Giant. Oh, the elegant readings, the fan club of worshipful followers hanging on one lips like leeches. The grand tour of major cities. The image of Self in the book-lined study.
This motive is met with much derision.
Along with a hint that the believer should confine themselves to the fantasy genre - since they're obviously good at it - such are also advised they should stop sacrificing scrawny hens during the dark of the moon.

3.Ego or Infantile Conceit.
A complex motive, ranging from those who assure everyone they have written the next best-seller to those who are convinced they are destined to shake the world.
Some may be identified by the characteristic months they spend devising a pseudonymn before they have put pen to the first page.

4. Revelation.
Combination of martyr complex and St. Michael-with-the-Sword. Standard S&M. Sometimes associated with garrets and extreme anorexia. Sometimes with tin-foil chapeaus.
Also may encompass the urge to display dirty underwear. Theirs or the institutions of the World....
Truth is divined from an examination of entrails or the stains therefrom. Such prophets may fall from their desert pillars with the discovery their personal shorts have been sent to the laundry.
We are also reminded of the suspicion that one of the first of the Revelators, another Johnboy, may have been on crack.

5. Obsession/Addiction/Possession/Passion.
Driven. To Find Oneself( internal.) Shaken by the Muse(external.) Insanity (justification.) To prevent insanity ( self-help.)Must or die ( a trifle hysterical, that.)Et cetera.

6. Love.
Of words, of stories. Of the sheer intellectual ecstasy of creating one from the other. Minor godling urge. The Minstrel Complex. But one where the Song is more important than the Singer. To tell a tale. To pass it on. The spell-binding magic of it. To create in other minds the same delight one has received.
To tell a tale.

Any combination of the above may apply.

Why do YOU write?


Carla said...

I bet you get an overwhelming majority in favour of No. 6 :-)

Bernita said...

Probably, Carla.
This lot is inclined to be mature and reasonably honest in their self- analysis.

Sela Carsen said...

A lot of 6, a little 5, and a teeny bit of 3. Actually, that's not true. I have a huge amount of 3, but at least I'm honest about it! I'm a performer by nature, and this is how I do it these days so I don't have to leave the family for hours and hours of rehearsal elsewhere. I spend my rehearsal time in front of the computer.

Btw, is "introspective data" the same as navel-gazing?

Bernita said...

Wouldn't have taken you for someone with a narcissistic ego, Sela. You probably fall in the middle of that motive range, ie. sound, self-worth.
Regarding "introspective data?" Yup.

Erik Ivan James said...

So that when I lay there at the end of my days, I will know it was written, without regret for not having done so.

Bernita said...

Ah, #5, I think, Erik. No remorse for the road not taken.
Hints of what might be part of #2 - hope for immortality.

Tsavo Leone said...

I can certainly appreciate Erik's sentiment.

If published, then aspirations of literay immortality...

If not published, then those who have read it might bow and scrape before me.

There's definitely an element of self-validation in my writing, the unearthing of a potential answer to the question of 'why am I here?' without the usual (perceived) uncertainties that I associate with other people's answers to said question.

But most of all, as I've said once or twice in the past, I write for me and because I can...

... though it doesn't hurt to know that one or two people out there seem to like what, or how, I write...

Robyn said...

Because I like to.

Because I love to.

Because the stories or characters just keep going around in my head if I don't put them on paper, and it gets crowded in there.

Because I do, unashamedly, get a charge when someone likes what I've written. Never has it been said of my stuff, "immortal," or "genius," but quite often, "cool." Good enough for me.

Erik Ivan James said...

Definate on #5 Bernita, but never think about it in the form of #2.

Rick said...

No. 6 absolutely dominates, and Erik makes a brilliant comment on No. 5. But let's be honest - isn't there also a good hefty bit of Nos. 1-3 involved?

Someone once argued that there are no "Sunday writers." The analogy is to Sunday painters, people who paint for their own pleasure, with no expectation that their work will ever hang in any gallery - perhaps not even displayed in the local art show - let alone the Met. But people who write, the saying implies, write in hope of publication.

As it turns out, this saying is not true - the existence of fanfic is proof that people do indeed write for their own pleasure, or at least not for professional publication, because fanfic is almost by definition unpublishable, even if intrinsically excellent.

Still, I would guess that everyone posting here is writing with intent to be published - meaning "really" published, not by AuthorHouse. I have seen most of your names on Miss Snark's comment threads, and she is irrelevant to a Sunday writer.

For serious writers, the coin of the realm is ... the coin of the realm. (There are a few exceptions. Literary writers and poets regard some small-press publications as legit credits, because they have prestige even if they only pay in copies.) But by and large, we regard commercial publication as our touchstone.

Why is this? Not just the money, because there rarely is much, though we'd probably all like to make a living at it.

Ego, that's big. Bernita could just be telling Damie's story to herself, I telling Catherine's story to myself, etc. But we not only want to tell stories, we want other people to read them. We are so egotistical that we want someone to read them and go "Damn, that was good!

And that segues to fame, because we want fans. Imagine the pleasure of seeing fanfic about your characters and world on the Web! The stuff might make you wince, but someone out there loves your world so much that they Mary Sue themselves into it. Even "slash" stories of two characters hopping into bed who you'd never have dreamed of putting in the sack together is a tribute, because someone is obviously in love with them.

So our motives are multiple, and mixed.

James Goodman said...

I would have to go with mostly number 6, but a fair amount of number 5

Dennie McDonald said...

I write because the voices won't stop.....

Truly, I have been writing since I was 8 - I have always loved to tell stories. I would say if I sell then it's a bonus - BONUS! - I don't think I can ever stop writing - if I go for too long w/o working on a WIP I tend to get very creative in e-mails and shopping lists =)

Ric said...

This will probably confuse everyone.

A lot of No. 1 & 2
less of 3 & 4
medium amounts of 5 & 6

I understand the concept that we're not supposed to be writing for the money and fame - but, really, most of us are.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Trying to supply that lost chord
in people's lives, I suppose.
Every time I put something up, about a dozen people, r.j Baker among them, say, "Yeah, that's it, I was there."
That's why the success of the self-help books. An ambitious writer can offer a kind of self help through jogging a reader's memories, dreams, associations through the characters he paints. Myself, I'm ambitious, but I ain't that good. Still, a lot of people seem to identify with being down and out and ****ed and somehow surviving it all.

R.J. Baker said...

Writing called, I answered, and all of the above.

I'm sure in our heart of hearts each apply to some extent, maybe some more than others, but all apply. Probably for me in reverse order, Love, Obsession, Revelation...

ali said...

I enjoy it. I sometimes feel like I'll go mad if I don't! I need to write down all the voices in my head :). I always have written - diaries, letters, stories, whatever - as long as I can remember being able to write.

So, I guess #6, with a hint of #5, but #1 and #2 would be very welcome if offered :).

Bernita said...

Oh, you lovely people.
You lovely, lovely people.

I see nothing wrong with writing for money - I just don't expect personally to get rich by it.
I don't anticipate or dream of becoming a household name.
But love, yes.And a need. To share. Not so someone will think the writer was good, but that the story was good and gave them pleasure, thoughts and dreams.
Underneath it, of course, is the expression of ideas, of self which translates into a modest ego at least.
A little bit of all, but mostly love of the thing and all its parts.

Gabriele C. said...

There's another aspect that play into it for me. A little.

I started writing when I was in a depressive phase again, and channelling my suppressed creative energies helped. I've always made up stories in my mind, but since my school time I didn't write them down. I've dabbled with designing clothes, but the Fashion World with its empty glamour was never my place. I can't paint, and while my photographing isn't bad, it's nothing special either. My writing is. Only I can tell my stories.

So yes, it's love and passion and therapy. The wish to share - and legit publication is still the best way to go there.

Leaving mark, maybe. I won't mind if people still read my books after my death, if my name were connected with "good, reliable Historical Fiction."

I even admit to money, though I'm realistic enough to know that this isn't something a writer can really influence. Though it would be nice to have enough to travel all the places I want to go. ;-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Gabriel.
Than all of you.
You shared.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I write because there's all these characters talking in my head that want a voice....uh, oh...I don't think their the same voices!

Anyhow, I need to put it on paper (or computer) to get rid of it!

I won't even insult you by saying the money wouldn't matter. I would love nothing better than the ability to support myself by doing nothing but writing!

Bernita said...

Don't think any of us are so nice that we would refuse to make money off our work.

Gabriele C. said...

Sure, and when I've some bestsellers out and get those million advances, I'll even throw a party for all of you. :-)

Bernita said...

I will too - just don't hold your breath.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I don't know why the hell I write.

When I figure it out, I'll tell you.

Bernita said...

My fumble fingers and failing eyesight.
That should have read: Thank all of you.

MissWrite said...

I suppose a large variety of all of the above, but the fact is, the old stand by: because I cna't not write, holds true.

I wrote for several years, and had some modest successes, but the business got to me at one point and I just threw up my hands ands said..."f this". The 'who needs this kind of aggravation' thought spun in my head and I walked away.

It lasted about a year before I realized the answer to the last thought was "I do" and I'm back.

Bernita said...

That urge, that incessant nagging urge.
Thank you, Tami.

nessili said...

Mainly to get these people out of my head, lest my friends think I'm schizophrenic or something.

Tho' along with depression therapy I also use writing as anger management.

Mainly I write because I think my head would explode if I didn't.

Bernita said...

A #5 then ,Nessili. Heads can be very busy places and writing eases the gridlock.