Why do anything, come to that? But in a world of words and an iMac groaning with a million of my own published and unpublished words, I do ask, as a writer should from time to time: why do I do what I do?
There are the romantics and the realists, the famous and the desperate, the paid and the unpaid. I have been paid for my writing, I have won prizes and been published. As I type and you read, my small collection of e-books garners a tiny income every day. But I am far from famous and not sure on any day how desperate or realistic I am about my writing ambitions.
Writing is one of the oldest professions, well story telling is and that is really what I am discussing herein. Men at war, travellers, families around their evening fires told stories to entertain and while away the evening. The Odyssey, the Canterbury Tales, Beowulf all come to us from this tradition. In the beginning we told stories about great deeds, noble acts and people – we told stories to inspire and teach lessons about how to behave, how to be noble and great. We made up scary fairy stories to keep our children out of the wolf heaving woods, away from the bears and things that would eat them.
Writing was for entertaining, for enjoyment, a way to connect with others. That’s not changed. The fact that we write so many different stories every day does not alter the prime imperative to entertain and say something meaningful.
So to one of my central points: a writer needs a reader. Many preferably but one can be enough. You know what it’s like reading stories to your child at night – it needs only the two of you – the story teller and the listener. It’s one of the most intimate relationships there is: writer and reader, as cosy and close as lovers.
These days it is like a return to the past of the old story-teller around the fire – the reader is right there responding, cheering, booing, crying. The teller discovers which bits work, which bits need refining and the next time his tale will be that bit different, that bit more atuned to the audience. Today we are in that space again with people able to comment on blogs, write reviews on-line, vote for stories to be funded based on a reading in a public place. The writer is right there in the face of the reader – no longer an anonymous distance separating them only troubled by a fan letter or a signing from time to time. This is the tradition Fan Fiction falls within – post a chapter, get responses, revise and modify your story and if you are a certain female parodying another certain female’s story of love and passion you have a best-seller. Yes, I am talking about 50 Shades of Grey!
The thing I really like about Fan Fiction and the reason I quite admire EL James, is that long ago many of us wrote stories in our exercise books based on other stories, imagining ourselves into a world created by others and now such secret writings can be shared with others, so we can see if what we’re doing is valued by someone else, someone who likes the original stories too and wants to spend more time there. Readers are voracious creatures, once they find something they love they remain devoted for life. You simply have to witness the popularity of a ‘series’ in any genre.
Why do you write? The famous and great still seem to start with a story for themselves, an idea that won’t be ignored. JK Rowling had an idea that burned and worried her, Hemingway the same. Stephanie Meyer hid herself away just to write about oddly chaste vampires. Big stories began small. We know of the competition between CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein to write the best Christian allegory for modern times which gave us Narnia and The Lord of the Rings – stories that echo and resound today. Amanda Hocking sat in her room and just wrote – because she wanted to.
I think you must begin with yourself. Write a story you want to read, about characters you are interested in, doing things you find compelling. Writing to find out, to solve problems, or consider them in a different way is also a good starting point. I write to find out, to explore the great ‘what if’ questions of life. I am not interested in epic adventures of old, of heroes and wars. I’m more concerned with human failings, with love, loss, striving, falling down and how we get up again. I am quite interested in how we cope with loss, why people keep secrets and what happens when they are revealed. And I’m curious about people who live outside normal expectations of behaviour; the eccentric, the odd. I guess these are the sorts of stories I like to read about too. It follows doesn’t it?
Recognition comes after the story and the audience. If your story is compelling enough and people love it enough (not just the agent or publisher anymore: thank you on-line self publishing) then recognition will follow. Riches and fame are still unlikely, are still for the few. For every new star there are thousands wallowing in their wake, not quite making it to shore in safety. If you’re writing fiction for money then you are a fool. You are as likely to win Lotto as you are to make it big from writing. If you’re writing to get published traditionally then you should stop now. It’s a hard as it ever was to get the attention of a mainstream publisher. EL James only got there after the Fan Fiction route, not instead. Amanda Hocking was an on-line best seller well before she hit pay dirt with the mainstream world.
Write for other reasons and then, if you are good enough, the money will follow. Most (creative) writers have another job in the real world. Ironically it seems you are freer as a writer when you are unknown, before expectations from readers and publishers push you in directions you may not want to go. Don’t write for the money it will screw with your head, push you in directions that can only compromise your integrity and imagination. Remember what happened to poor old F Scott Fitzgerald when he sold his soul to Hollywood in his latter years. Write because you want to, because it means something to you.
In the end write because
You have something to say, something you are passionate about
You love words and language and playing with them
You have to – you can’t stop yourself
Writing is the thing that makes you feel utterly alive
Writing is when you feel most yourself
Writing is like making magic and we all need more magic in our lives!
(Images courtesy Google Images)
Tags: 50 Shades of Grey, Amanda Hocking, e-books, EL James, F Scott Fitzgerald, Fan Fiction, JK Rowling, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, on-line publishing, readers, The Odyssey, why write at all? Don't write for money, writing