Why I Write

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Enjoying being done (again) with revisions on sci fi rom novella
Mood: Self-congratulatory

Every once and awhile I get contemplative. It usually happens when I’m between deadlines, which is yet another reason why deadlines are good things. I also have a mean self-help streak which I try not to indulge too often because I don’t think it’s helpful, to myself or anybody else. I’m sorry to say these two bad habits have come together in a brutal session of navel gazing lately.

Why do I write?

I’ve been asking myself this ever since I attended a writing workshop years ago where the presenter told us to answer this question and I had to cheat off the writers next to me. And then, only a few days later, I read a writing craft book that demanded an answer to the question too, and I decided the universe was making fun of me and even the answers I stole weren’t good enough.

When forced into a corner, my usual answers to the “Why do I write?” question are:

  • Money and fame
  • Casual dress code
  • Free books (cuz I write ‘em myself)

You see why I’m not exactly winning self-help prizes with these answers.

But recently, in the midst of wrestling with this question once again (I don’t even know why it’s important! I just remember that the workshop and the book both talked about it so it must be important) I was listening to some self-help podcasts (somebody stop me!) and heard the question posited a slightly different way. Instead of asking “Why do you _____?” the question was this:

“What do you get out of doing ______ that reinforces the desire to continue?”

Yes, yes, I realize this is just a slightly warmer, fuzzier wording of operant conditioning, but I’m going with it for a moment.

What do I get out of writing? What is it about writing that fulfills something in me?

And after mulling it over on a  few dog walks, I decided that, for me, it’s about creating something out of nothing. There’s something amazing about taking words that have no measurable atomic density, no visible wavelength, no smell even, and creating…whatever — and by amaze, I mean “a maze” where there is a sense of mystery and discovery and adventure and even the danger of getting lost. Storytelling requires nothing but an idea, really, and from there you build a world that goes on to live in other people’s minds.

Which I guess is a slightly warmer, fuzzier way of saying: “Why do I write?”

  • Delusions of godlinghood

Still, I like the idea of the question “What do I get out of doing ______?” I’ve been applying it to my characters, my unsuspecting friends with questionable love lives, my snack choices, my moments of procrastination, vacuuming.

Is this helping my writing in any way? Not that I’ve noticed, to be honest. Although I have discovered I’m not particularly fulfilled by a clean house and I don’t even need a deadline to justify the impromptu dog-hair carpet under my desk.

I knew this contemplative self-helping wasn’t good for me. Do you have a force you know motivates you, for good or ill? Do you try to encourage or fight it? Have you had any luck?

Have to? Maybe. Sort of. Not really.

Dame Kaz (Karen Mahoney) over at Deadline Dames had a great post today about “The Book You Have to Write.”

She quoted A.M. Homes who said: “If you don’t write the book you have to write, everything breaks.”

Kaz’s point — if I understood her correctly — is that sometimes we have to tell a story that is difficult or frightening for us.  Maybe it’s beyond our current skill set (we think) or it doesn’t seem marketable or it dredges up ugly memories.  But, the quote implies, we won’t be All That We Can Be until we confront that story burning in us.

Some of the comments to the post seemed to take from the quote the license to be (add French accent here) Artistes. 

Now I’m more guilty than many of twisting the writing life into an angst-fest of adolescent proportions, so some of the comments struck a little close to home.

As if the story you tell must capture your imagination from beginning to The End, four hundred pages later.  As if you must rage with Incadescent Inspiration throughout each and every word.  As if Shiny New Ideas are more worthy than the battle-scarred manuscript on your screen with its blasted blinking cursor.  This thought process takes you inevitably to…  You’re allowed to stop writing and wait for Have To.


As I said in my comment there, I’m wary of Books of the Heart and Muses and Inspiration and The One.  My heart has been broken, my muse is a negligent bitch, The One is The Not. 

I had a medieval romance that I was absolutely positive would be the one that sold.  (Don’t talk to me about the medieval market; that so wasn’t the point.)  My Tarot spreads said it was.  In my Tarot journal, I even scrawled in a fevered hand “This is THE ONE!!!”  I had a dream about getting The Call for that book.  Songs on the radio echoed my theme.  On the less woo-woo side, it did well in a couple contests and got requests from NYC. 

But it didn’t sell.  Something else did — the story that wasn’t The One but The Next.  

Honestly, compared to The One, there was nothing about The Next that made it a “have to” story.  It was a story I wanted to tell, sure, but I didn’t consult the oracles or angst any harder about it than I usually do.  I slogged through it at my standard pre-global-warming glacial pace.  I did the work, paid my dues, jumped through the hoops, waited for my chance, etc.

I love the Homes quote — which sounds waaaay sexier than “paid my dues” — but I also think everything breaks eventually.  Entropy is even more of a bitch than my muse.  For me, what I do with the pieces is what matters.

I just want other writers not to worry if it isn’t always sexy.  On those occasions where your writing sessions aren’t accompanied by flights of angels from whose harps power verbs waft, you might just do the work and not even get a pithy quote.  Sometimes “have to” doesn’t mean fiery inspiration but cold determination.

Sometimes it’s not The One but simply The Done.

Where do babies come from?

Cross-posted from Silk And Shadows
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Currently working on: Cover copy for SEDUCED
BY SHADOWS — Look, ma! It’s a book!
Mood: Obsessively perfectionist

Where do ideas come from?  If authors sometimes refer to their books as their children, for me, the answer to where ideas come from is as simple and boring as the 20-page picture book I read that was supposed to answer the perennial childhood question, Where do babies come from?  All I remember was the sentence: “The egg is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.”  And it wasn’t really a large font size.

Scientifically unverified reasons it’s likely my “ideas” are actually just eggs:

  • It seems they come from somewhere inside me
  • They start out small and unformed and more than a little alien-like
  • I break a lot of them in the course of half-baking them
  • My job is to hatch them, raise them up and let them fly

Now that I review my list, my ideas are really less like children and more like chickens. 

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