There is much written online, in ebooks, and in print about how to write fiction. What I’d really like to know is why people write it. One thing I’m sure about is that writers are not driven by the need for publication – not many of us anyway. As a one-time psychologist, I’m pretty sure there is no innate human drive to see your work in print, and I can’t actually see the evolutionary advantage in such a drive. It certainly won’t put food on the plate. Authors’ earnings are pathetically small. Even a ‘successful’ author (one whose books hit the NY Times best seller list) is liable to be earning about as much as a high school teacher. And the number of authors who are that successful is very small.
Personally, I do it because writing fiction is very much like reading it – only way, way better. It’s like having the book you’ve always wanted to read unfolding in your head. And, if the story starts to get a bit dull, you can spice it up any way you like. If the character you introduced in chapter five is getting a bit tedious, you can toss him out the airlock in chapter nine. If you like aliens, drop a ship full of them into the field next door. If you don’t want the broad-shouldered hunk to get the girl, give her a quirky preference for the scrawny intellectual type. Writing fiction is truly just the very best way to entertain yourself ever invented.
This has to be the main reason so many people do it. Making up stories is fun – even if your execution of them is terrible. As it happens, my writing is OK – good enough to get me published anyhow. But I know I’d keep writing even if I was completely incapable of putting two coherent sentences in a row.
How do I know? Because I write music too and (it seems) I’m truly awful at that. Even my own wife can’t bear to hear it. No-one, even out of pity, has ever said they like it. So many people don’t like it that I really have to accept the fact that it really can’t be any good. Yet I keep doing it because I love doing it and I love listening to what I do. (I was thinking of pointing you to a sample or two, but I think I’ll spare you.)
I’ve often thought about trying to publish my music. If I had tried, I expect I’d have got lots of rejections and the poor people I’d inflicted it on would yield that same cry of disbelief that agents and editors do when they pull truly awful writing out of their slush piles, “How could anyone who writes this badly ever believe they have a chance of being published?” Well, my musical tin ear must have its writing equivalent because, if it hadn’t been for all the objective evidence to the contrary, I could have gone to my grave thinking I was a pretty cool songwriter.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a great little prayer, which I’d like to bastardise if I may.
Grant me the Serenity to accept there are things I cannot do well, the Courage not to focus only on the things I’m good at, at the expense of what I enjoy, and the Wisdom to know that other people can tell the difference.
People get too hung up on publication. Yes, it’s good to have the validation, and it’s great to have loads of people you’ve never met reading your stuff. And there is a kind of magic aura that surrounds you once it has happened (although my therapist told me I shouldn’t mention that.) But the real pleasure in writing is creating the story, its world, and its people. To have a mind that can do that is what is really special about being a writer, whether anybody else likes your work or not.
Before I go, I’d just like to say a big thank you to Scribs for hosting this stop on my blog tour. If you haven’t been here before, I suggest you stay a while and look around. There is much sage advice here.
The TimeSplash Blog Tour
Graham Storrs is the author of TimeSplash, a fast-paced time travel thriller. This post is part of the TimeSplash blog tour running from 16th February to the 5th May. To find out more about the book, go to the TimeSplash website and check out the blog tour schedule page at TimeSplash – The Blog Tour 2010.