Like most people with a creative bent, I am frequently plagued by consistently low self-esteem and crippling bouts of self-doubt. This often causes me to question both the wisdom and the motivation behind many of my decisions, although not usually until long after it is possible to make a different decision. This is why I'm dedicating my first writing post to answering the same question every other writing blogger has answered for their first post since time immemorial; "why do I want to be a writer", or more specifically, "why do I want to be a professional writer of fiction?"
I won't lie to you and say that people often ask me why I want to be a writer. They don't. The only writing related questions anyone ever asks me are, "when will your novel be finished" and "can I read it?" I won't be addressing those questions here though, as they are too easily answered ("eventually", and "only if you are willing to either buy it or edit it" respectively), and don't provide me with adequate space to be witty and charming on a blog that
no-one few people read.
Now most writers, when talking about why they write, will tell you that they write because they can't not write, or because they are just a conduit for a story that wants to be born, or some other pretentious hogswallop like that. That's about as bullshitty as it sounds. I can easily imagine a future in which I never write another word creatively. I suspect I wouldn't be very happy in that world, but I can picture it. Likewise, the stories I write are written by me. Their contents are entirely determined by me. There is no celestial repository where all the stories that could ever exist float around looking for a particular type of mind to channel them into this, the real world. Writing is work, and (to paraphrase Westley) any writer who says differently is selling something
There are various aspect to being a writer that appeal to me. It would be wonderful to wear inappropriately wide-brimmed hats, for example, or to grow the best sideburns this side of 1872. I would love for people to accept it if, when hit by a car, I then bought the car and destroyed it with my own hands. All of those would be nifty, but they don't really explain why I want to write for a living. The reasons I want to be a writer are pretty simple, really; I revel in the English language, I love the craft and skill of storytelling, and I'm an attention pig. I can't honestly see there being any other reasons.
The question I originally wrote way back at the beginning of this post (Why do I want to be a professional writer of fiction?) really breaks down into three smaller questions:
- Why do I want to write?
- Why fiction?
- Why do I want to publish what I write?
The answer to the first question is, as I said, because I revel in the mad mix of order and chaos that is the English language. English, more than any other language, is both tool and toy. English has innumerable rules of grammar and usage, but we are free to ignore most of them if we feel like it. It is far easier to coin new words* in English than in any other language I know (French, German, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, currently). There are a million subtle shades of meaning in the choice of a single word, and there are a million words that will serve to convey the meaning you're after, whatever meaning that is. There are rhythm, and rhyme, and alliteration. The English language is an incredibly variable, infinitely flexible, never-ending box of building blocks, and playing with those blocks is my favorite thing in the world.
The second question arises because I could have almost as much fun playing with words with non-fiction as with fiction; so why fiction, and why speculative fiction in particular? It may help you to understand if I tell you that, had you asked me at the age of 6 or 7 where I would live if I could choose to live anywhere, I'd have answered without hesitation either the Shire or the Old Forest. Had you asked me again at 10 or 11, I'd have said Benden Weyr. My dragon would have been named Bob (because who has a dragon named Bob?) and he would have been a color even better than bronze. If I'm honest, I'd still prefer to live there most days.
I've always preferred invented worlds to the real one; they tend to be less disappointing. I've never felt the slightest urge to be a journalist, I don't like the idea of engaging that much with the real world. I briefly thought about a career in philosophy, which is really just very sophisticated word play once you boil it down to its essence, but that much navel gazing can't be good for anyone's sanity. Writing fiction allows me to take reality and fantasy and mix them together in whatever proportion pleases me most.
As to the question of why I want to publish my writing, the answer isn't quite as simple as I initially indicated. It's true that I am an attention pig; what good is being a genius with verbiage if nobody else has the chance to appreciate it? More than that, though, is the issue of time and responsibilities. I have certain obligations to both myself and my family. I have to provide food, and shelter, and clothes, and vacations and things for my family, and that means earning money. If I were to earn my money by selling things, or teaching, or filling out forms in a cubicle it would take at least 8 hours a day, five days a week (and probably more) away from the time I can spend writing. If I can earn my living by writing, I can spend those 8 hours a day, 5 days a week (almost certainly more) doing something that I love doing, and still have time to go on those vacations with the people I love.
So there you have it; my first, and probably last, self-absorbed writing post. Now that that's out of the way, I'm hoping to use my writing posts to talk about actual writing issues, to update the world on the things I'm working on, and to talk about various resources that might be of use to writers. In the meantime, let's have some self-absorbed comments. Why do you want (or not want) to be a writer? If you could live anywhere at all where would you live? What's your favorite flavor of ice cream? Weigh in below.
* my current favorite is "douchebaggery", as in, "Cease this douchebaggery at once!"