As you know, Dear Writer, writing is hard work, exhausting, difficult, slow-going, an anti-social activity, demanding total concentration. It makes you grumpy. You tend to snap at husbands/wives and anybody else who has the audacity to they speak to you. And when you’ve finished your masterpiece, can you get anyone to read it, let alone publish it? Right now, my husband is watching James Bond on television. Should I be saving my fingers and my energy watching it with him? And the cat wants to sit on my knee. Why on earth do we do it?
There are two main reasons for writing:
- for money
- because you (the writer) wants to.
Most of us, of course, believe we can achieve both, that is, get a grateful public to read what wanted to write and pay for the privilege. It worked for Dickens, you know, although he, being editor of his own magazine (‘Household Words’), accepted his own submissions. Was that cheating? (Probably not, as he was quite good at it.) Several decades later,Johanna Spyri wrote ‘Heidi’, quite specifically in order to make money. Well done, Johanna. Writing cutesie stories about little girls in the Alps certainly beats my day job!
If we were really writing only for financial reward, we would probably become journalists. My daughter earns her living by writing about green energy, and is very organised and business-like about it, studying markets, cultivating clients and pitching (agreeing) every article before it is researched and entered on to computer. But, even though she is very passionate about all things green, that’s not the same, you say. It isn’t.
Most fiction writers write because they feel driven, sure they have the most wonderful story to tell, with the most amazing characters, funny, sad and intensely moving. It is a feeling akin to falling in love, because the author is passionate and biased in the same way as a lover. Sooner or later, he/she will hit ‘Chapter 11 Syndrome’ where reality hits. The plot unravels, the jokes lack sparkle, the moving bits don’t move the person writing them (let alone anyone else) and he/she realises that he/she doesn’t know enough about his/her characters. Ty Roper expresses this very well in his blog Time to Write. Other writers just plod on regardless and oblivious. They’re enjoying themselves hugely and (saving the odd bad-tempered riposte aimed at family members), not doing anyone any harm. Their hobby is cheap, better in every way than watching the telly or playing computer games, but writing in this way can be self-indulgent.
I myself started composing stories in my head at primary school age because there weren’t ENOUGH stories for me to read. In my early teens, I start to write in pencil in lined exercise books, about what interested me (but not necessarily anyone else – indeed, probably no one else). I continued for many decades, moving on to A4 file paper and eventually on to computer, inventing my own world where everything would work my way. I wrote for love – compulsively – although in fairness I did go over my work and edit it a lot to improve it. But for whom? Ah, one day I would be an acclaimed writer. The publisher would be wowed by it and so would the readers. One day. In the meantime, I was immersed in a load of characters and a private world no one else knew about.
After a very long time, writing for myself no longer satisfied me. I was telling my stories, expressing myself as best I could – into a vacuum. Surely, there were loads of readers out there longing to hear them. Well, actually, no. Quite quickly, I appreciated that I had a great deal to learn, and, as I started to learn it, I began writing with a view to publication – but not for money. The whopping highs I experience from writing come from getting my work accepted. Occasionally, I have been paid – probably just over £50 in total, not anything like enough to live on – but I have a day job with a salary. Getting paid for writing is not important to me.
My long-term self wants to write more and has many ideas, but my present-day person is tired and preoccupied with this day job, which saps my energy and creativity. Often, I confess, writing for publication is not enjoyable for me. So why do I do it?