At the Alaska Writer’s Guild annual conference, I heard a lot of things. So many of those things stuck with me as really good and legitimately helpful advice. I will go on about that quite a bit over the next few weeks in part because I’m still digesting what I heard and writing it out like this helps me to understand it. That said, one of the things that hit me, and is still hitting me, is this question:
Why do we write?
If you’d asked me that question before last week, I’d have selected one of the following clichés:
– Because I love doing it, and I want to keep doing it,
– Because I want to be a professional writer when I grow up,
– Because it legitimizes my wearing of socks and sandals in a way nothing else can.
Okay, I made that last one up, that’s being a programmer. Being a programmer does that. So the real answer, and one I’m embarrassed to say someone had to tell me, is that we write to be read. Wow. Okay. That distills it down to the very heart of the matter, doesn’t it? I think that ought to be enough for me to just carry on and keep writing. After all, it’s not exactly an earth shattering revelation. Yet, it still nags me, because I can’t get past the second why. This is the why that hangs out with a but just at the end of the to be read.
Why? It’s the ultimate existential question isn’t it? You can why anything to death. I keep wanting to come back round to the why I do this, but here’s the kicker, it’s not about me at all. If I make it about me, then I’m missing the point. I’d like to think what I write is humorous. Perhaps not outright funny, but silly in a slightly better than slapstick way. Attempting to be humorous adds something to my work for sure. When I started doing that, the quality of my writing increased dramatically. Even I like it better and I’m extremely hard on myself. I’ve even gotten a few compliments, and compliments feel good. For me, the best compliment is “I’m really enjoying this.” I’m not really looking for anything more than that. There it is again, that me thing, but that’s why I do it, we’re talking the second why, not the first one.
To get back to the first ‘why’ in ‘why do we write’, it’s a two way street isn’t it? I get satisfaction from hearing the words “I’m enjoying this.” and the reader has clearly gotten something from it. They’ve gotten what I was hoping they would get out of it. The problem here is that it’s all too easy to focus exclusively on the ‘me’ portion of the equation and not the reader portion. I’m not saying it’s all about working out exactly what an audience wants to see, because quite often they don’t know what they want, that’s why creative people exist, to make up the new things that people didn’t know they wanted until they have it in front of them.
In any case, this is something for me to ponder and think about as I work through the difficult process of getting enough pre-orders to publish Wine Bottles and Broomsticks on Inkshares, and moving forward too into other projects that will need to find the readers that need them.
I hear what you’re saying, but there has to be something in it for you. It’s really hard to finish projects when you aren’t enjoying them.
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I’m enjoying them for sure. If I lose interest in a project, I stop. I think it’s more of a perspective shift for me. When a project is finished, it needs to find readers on order to come alive, so to speak. It’s sort of a sales pitch thing. When I’m at work I often have to do a sales pitch on new software. The only way to get folks to adopt is to show them how it’s going to improve their day to day workflow. I don’t implement software to make my life easier, because that doesn’t work so well. I implement that software to make everyone’s job easier. Handing a book to a reader should make me feel the same way – I am giving a reader something for entertainment, something they will enjoy, laugh about, a little bit of escape and drama that doesn’t belong to them but by reading it they can help resolve. Anyhow, I get a great deal of satisfaction at work in delivering useful, helpful software and this is a lesson I should have in mind when writing and when asking folks to invest time and money in buying a story.
*Ahem* Nothing legitimizes wearing socks with sandals, not even writing. 🙂
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