“To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.”
Jane Austen-Sense and Sensibility
My wish, above all else, is to write the best damn story I can–one that’s epic and sweeping and pulls people into a world I created. It’s arrogant and bold to wish such a thing. To knowingly want to achieve a piece of immortality for myself by making something that flies straight from my imagination and into the hearts and minds of a captive public. But that’s my not-so-simple, greedy wish.
I remember years ago, a woman in my critique group asked our members if we’d be satisfied with self-publication if our work was successful as a result or if we needed the approval and legitimacy of an agent and traditional publisher. It was kind of a silly question. I mean, she put the caveat in there that our work would be successful so this should have been a no-brainer. An enthusiastic, “Yes!” should have been our unanimous reply. But it wasn’t. And I understood. What she really meant, the real meat of her question was, “Why the hell are you people writing?”
Is it to win approval, like she suspected? High praise from Publishers Weekly or Booklist? Is it to tell people you’ve landed a top literary agent with the kind of heady bragging rush that could only be experienced by junior high girls telling everyone about their cute, popular boyfriends. Maybe you secretly believe you’ll win the publishing lottery and be the next JK Rowling and garner a near billion dollars from your work. Sure, she said it was creepy when people started going through her trash to learn about her. But seriously, could fame be that bad? Or perhaps you’ve been to a beloved author’s book signing and fantasized about fans feeling ecstatic at accidentally bumping into you in the bathroom of a Tattered Cover bookstore like the time my tiny bladder gifted me with a chance encounter with Diana Gabaldon. Do you write dreaming of the day your expensive pen glides across the title page of your published novel as you dole out the autographs to a l-o-o-o-ng line of readers?
Well, yes, all those things would be wonderful. (Except people going through my trash and discovering I’m the opposite of a wine snob) But those aren’t the only reasons most of us writers write. Some people like to stand up and though they may not literally do this, I know on the inside they are, put their hand on heart, lift their chin, and declare in a loud and sure voice, “I write because I must. Because I can’t not write.”
Huh? I hate double negatives. And there’s also a whole disorder (hypergraphia) about compulsive writing so be sensitive, okay? Joking aside, it sounds very noble to say such a thing, but it drives me crazy because it’s like circular logic. It still leaves us with the question, “WHY must you write?”
And possibly there’s as many answers to that question as there are writers.
I know why I write. I write to bring the world in my mind into the mind of my readers. I write because I must–in order to get closer to that wish fulfillment. It’s my lottery ticket at a chance to be a JK Rowling or a George Lucas. How real is the wizarding world of Harry Potter to you? How much is Star Wars a part of your personal history? How flipping amazing to have been walking around with Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker in your head and your head alone–and now most of the planet knows who they are!! (Yeah, I needed two exclamation points because that thought gets me so excited!) Will I really reach millions of people? Doubtful, but not impossible. (Whoohoo!) And that’s why I keep writing and wishing and hoping and expecting to reach people. Maybe my readers will only ever be my husband, my kids, my critique group, and a few close friends. But man, I just made a world in their heads that never existed. And that is nothing short of a miracle.
More on that in my next post about Stephen King, telepathy, and trusting your readers.