Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Write Therefore I Am...Masochistic?

A fellow writer friend posed this question. Why do I write?

Or rather, why do we writers put up with all the crap we put up with?

And there is a lot of crap. Struggling for months/years over a story that might never make it past the bottom of an agent/editor’s slush pile. Eeking out time away from our real lives to sit, alone, at a computer with only the company of fictional people to keep us warm. Suffering through writer’s block, carpal tunnel, eye-strain, muscle aches, and sunlight deprivation. Mostly misunderstood by our families and friends who can’t fathom why we hear voices or why we walk around in a daze most of our waking hours or wake up to scribble notes from a dream in the middle of the night.

If...and that's a capital IF...we ever manage to see our names on the cover of a real live book, it's to the great pay of some $.0015 per working hour, if that. And I'd have to share that with my very annoying internal editor who doesn't seem to understand the concept of "Go away and die!" So it certainly isn't the incentive of any big financial payout.

Really, when you think about it, there’s not a whole lot to recommend the endeavor.

So why do we do it?

I can only speak for myself, but I write because I can’t help it. It is the only way I know to purge my brain of the stories and people who reside there. If I don’t put it down on paper, those people will hound me until I do require prescription medication.

I wish I could say I write because it’s fun. But I can’t honestly use that word to describe what I get out of writing. Mostly that’s because I find writing extremely frustrating. It could be simply that I don’t have the talent or mastery of the craft yet. Currently there is such a vast disconnect between the story that plays in my head versus the words I find to describe it. I’m never satisfied because what I write never exactly captures what I’ve seen and feel. I’ve not reached the point where I can tell when I’ve gotten close enough. I’m really hoping that I’ll finally know that moment when I find someone to publish something I’ve written, although I’m starting to think that feeling of pure satisfaction is the writer’s Holy Grail.

Too, I’m terrified and overwhelmed a good portion of the time. I know what I need to write to get the story out from beginning to end, and the list of scenes looms before me like Mt. Everest. That is, assuming I even have a full list of scenes rather than just a vague idea that this guy and girl meet and some stuff happens and they fall in love, maybe three scenes worth of specifics. How in the world will I ever show the action scene when the bank robbers grab the heroine and hold her hostage? How am I ever going to convey the depths of the hero’s despair when he thinks the heroine has married another man? All I wanted to do was tell a story, but it ends up being a whole lot of work! Really hard work.

Because for me, the story-generating part is easy. Wait…let me explain that because there has been some very interesting discussion about writing versus storytelling over at Alison Kent and Sylvia Day’s blogs. I guess I am a storyteller. The story part comes easy for me. Who the characters are and what they are doing and why and what happens then and so forth. But the writing part – the translation of that story into something that is readable and engaging and – okay, let’s be honest – publishable is a whole other kettle of fish. There are so many things to think about. And you start to wonder if it’s worth the bother.

I’ve reached the point where I think I’ll be satisfied if I can just get my stories out of my head and onto paper/screen. If they never get published, if no one else reads them but me and a few kindly friends or critique group partners, I’ll be okay with it.

Because I think the real reason I write is that I have stories in my head that I wish someone else had written so that I could read them. And I’m pretty much the only person volunteering for the job.

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