Words for Writers: Why Write?

Mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig asks today, What Makes It Worth It?

She talks about why writers write, despite all the frustrations, rejections, and lack of respect that can come with the job, and she hits a lot of the same points that I would have spoken about: intellectual and creative stimulation and knowing that you might have changed somebody’s mind, or life, or dreams.

But for me, there’s also another reason:

I think my head would explode if I didn’t let the worlds and people out of it.

No, really.

I have always written because I have always been a storyteller. (Ask my parents the story about the fake black eye and the blue crayon.) From a very young age I was obviously a performer – singing, dancing, acting, speeches and anything else that I could get into that allowed me to transmit a story from a page or my own brain to someone else, that’s what I did. I even tried to draw a comic once, though I’ve learned that perhaps my artistic talents, while not, er, sucky… are also not as worth showcasing as any others I have. Like, um, anything else.

Little League Baseball? No thanks. Skating lessons? Boring. Cooking? Pshaw.

I wanted to be a storyteller. For most of my childhood, I focussed on the performance aspect of that. (Though in the last ten years, sewing and creating costumes have jumped onto the list).

But Writing has never been a goal for me, and “Being An Author” was never on my career day assignment sheets. Writing was originaly just a hobby, something that I did that took up the boring space between acting/singing/dancing lessons, school classes (or in classes… I found plot notes and character breakdowns on old maths homework while cleaning out my old place.)

Writing was always just something that helped me to channel the creative/storytelling drive I have when I couldn’t be on the stage.

Even the first few novels I finished were only for the consumption of friends. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that someone said, “You know, this book is good enough to get published”, that I even considered pursuing publication.

And even then it was a sort of ‘when-I-have-the-time’ kind of querying. I sort of half expected nothing to come of it and hadn’t invested a whole lot into getting published – I continued with my education, and then my career, and wrote on the weekends.

I never stopped writing for fun, though: short stories, poems, and novels that only friends and my internet group read.

Imagine my surprise when a publishing company responded to my query with a “yes, please!”  I sold them (Back), my first short story, for $10. That was when I went, “Whoa, wait, hang on… people actually will pay me for my writing? I’m getting fanmail off this story? People want more of this world? Hmmm… I do like these characters. And I do have more to say about them…”

THEN I started taking it seriously. I wrote more about those characters (“Triptych”) and went after publication for that novel, and was lucky enough to meet my editor at a party and accidentally, unknowingly pitch the novel to her. She accepted it after some long, useful conversations and intensive rewrites, and it will be published April 2011 by Dragon Moon Press.

Now I’m knees deep in self promotion and marketing and planning for “Triptych” (yay for book trailers! I still have acting/film outlets!), and for the first time I am looking at original novels I wrote before I was taking the title “Author” seriously and revising them to start shopping. I’ve also, for the first time, begun a novel with publication specifically in mind, which makes it a quite different, but no less engaging process.

Strangely enough, whereas writing used to be what I did between acting gigs, now acting gigs are what I do around writing!

But I still just write for fun, for the enjoyment, for the relaxation, and because I might go insane if all these noisey, selfish people in my head didn’t get exorcized through a keyboard.

It’s sort of like having an imaginary friend, but like, a lot of them. And they all have things that they want to do or say. And if you’re writing them, they go, “Hey! Pay attention! Aren’t you going to get me out of that situation where I’m tied to the post in the Samurai’s cabin? No? What do you mean, you have to do work? Stop writing reports! Write about meeeee!”

Perhaps it’s strange to say, but writing these about people really is a bit like giving birth – they gestate inside you, poke your liver hard, do summersaults on your stomach, hurt like hell to get out of you (writing, editing, revising, cutting, writing, editing some more, querying, rejections, acceptance, more editing!), and then grow into something amazing and wonderful and a little bit beyond your control. They’ll always be a part of you, and you’ll always be part of them, but when they’re gone, when the book is published, they’re not inside you any more.

Okay, so that metaphore got a little more graphic than I meant it to, but you know what I mean.

Now, don’t mistake me for someone who thinks I am my characters, or that I really do believe that these characters are real people who are talking to me. I know perfectly well that I am only a writer who imagines things and writes them down.

But it helps me to visualize these people, to figure out how they’d talk with me, if they could, and what they would demand, what they would complain about, what they would thank me for doing. It makes them more rounded when I put them down on paper. I know how they would react to a situation, or what they would say to someone they don’t like, or do like.  I play with my characters in my head before I write the same way that a child might play with a fashion doll before becoming a clothing designer.

So, my answer to Why Do I Write?

Because I have to. Because it’s natural and biological, and because if I didn’t, I might actually develop a split personality. And trust me, you don’t want to meet Dsr in person.


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: Why Write?

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