Welcome to week 5 of Practical Meerkat. Despite a week that included a broken finger (don’t try this at home, kids) and the demolition of my bathroom (such fun!) I am here only a little bit late, to talk about Why We Write, and why it matters (or does it?).
There is a theory, popular among many, that says that writers are writers because they have to write, driven to it by irresistible urges (not, interestingly enough, unlike the claims made by some serial killers. Hrm). That may be true. And yet… It may not.
Some people write to ease the pressure of the stories in their heads. Some people write because they love the flow of words, the interplay and possibilities of meanings. Some people write to instruct, or to f*ck with people’s expectations or assumptions. And some people write because they love the feeling of having written*.
In truth, most of us write for a combination of all the above reasons. Is one of them the “right” reason? No. Does one (or several) of them create a “better” book?
Well… maybe. I am strongly of the storyteller class; I think that the drive to create worlds for other people’s (and my own) entertainment is the only reason to wake up every morning and do this incredibly frustrating job. But does that make me a better writer than the person who writes for the accomplishment of a finished book, or the person who writes for the sheer love of the language?
[a long pause, a thoughtful stare….]
No. And no matter what your preference, don’t let anyone tell you that you are somehow a ‘lesser’ writer for why you do it.
Not so long as you make use of all those things – the love of language, the energy of the story, the desire to f*ck with your readers’ heads a little (because otherwise, the story has no resonance), and the joy of having a completed story to present to the world.
There is no “best” reason to write. It’s important, though, for you to know why you do it. Not to justify yourself in a bar-room discussion (although it’s best to be armed for such things), and not even because there will be mornings when you wake up/evenings when you fall asleep, and say “why the HELL am I doing this, again?”
You need to know because without that knowing, you will fail.
Oh, bullshit, someone out there is scoffing. All you need are the tools and the desire, not navel-gazing about why. I not-so-respectfully – after watching a great many writers stumble, and only some of them get up — disagree.
Motivation and desire are essential to any career in the arts, especially when you must be a businessperson as well. The publishing world will throw endless distractions at you, people will list the things you SHOULD do or SHOULD want or SHOULD accomplish.
If you listen to that noise, you will get lost in it.
Self-awareness isn’t just about why you write, but what you need out of it. Being able to hear that one true voice in the midst of all the noise, to understand what satisfies your need, will allow you to turn down the noise, and get back to work.
And that’s what makes a better writer.
*some people write for the glory, or instant wealth. We will, for the purposes of defining “writer” in this instance, merely point and laugh.
Next week: You Can Say No.
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her first collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in Spring 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.