Sunday, June 1, 2008

Why Write?

People often ask me why I write. I must admit that I'm not one of those writerly types who claim their lives are not complete unless they put pen to paper, who swear they must write every day or die. Not to disparage their need (in fact, I wish I shared it!), but I am completely unable to relate to it. I don't write because I couldn't not write; in fact (I suppose I shouldn't admit this) many days can pass before guilt drags me back to the computer. Writing is, usually, a very painful process for me. I agonize over every word, analyze every image, ponder every plot point; words never flow from my pen, but grind their way out like kidney stones. Writing is not an activity I'm particularly eager to undertake each morning.

Then why do I do it?

The easy answer is one that probably motivates many writers: I write because I read. I can't imagine not writing because I can't imagine not reading. I've read voraciously ever since I was a child; I loved reading so much I pursued it as a career and earned myself a doctorate in literature. I have enjoyed the works and imaginations of so many authors, I feel compelled, in a sense, to make my own contribution to the world of books. If just one reader gets caught up in my book, reads it eagerly and closes it with regret at the end, I will feel as though I have succeeded. Providing the thrill of good read for just one reader will make all the wincing and straining worthwhile.

The second reason I write? For the challenge. As a student of literature, I spent my time reading and dissecting books, taking them apart and discovering how they worked. That all changed the day my husband asked me, "Don't you get tired of talking about what other people wrote? Why don't you write the books other people talk about?" He threw down the gauntlet; how, as a good wife, could I not pick it up? {wink} His words were the impetus I needed to turn the niggling thought--"Could I do this, too?"--into a reality--"I did it!" And I have to say I found writing a novel much more difficult and infinitely more fulfilling than writing my dissertation. It was a thrill and a challenge to move from analyst to artist, to utilize what I'd learned to create a cohesive and (hopefully) engaging novel of my own. And the challenge has only intensified since I finished the first book. Now that I've written one novel,  I'll have to write an even better one. I'm sure that with each book I will find new ways to push myself, new heights to reach for. It's this desire to challenge myself, to create something out of nothing and do it as successfully as I can at this specific moment in time, that propels me to the desk each day. That, and the desire to show my husband what I can do!

So, if you are a writer, why do you write? I'd love to hear what motivates you. If you are a reader, do you ever think you'll try your hand at fiction?

16 comments:

Susan Adrian said...

Hi Julianne!

I write because I always have a story in my head. Once one is done, another one pops up after it.

I'd LOVE to have my stories "out there" for readers--that's my ultimate goal in all this--but if that never happens for some reason, I'm still okay. Most of writing my stories down is writing them for myself. :)

C.W. Gortner said...

I write because it's how I make sense of the world around me. History helps me understand where we are by showing me where we've been; exploring history through fiction helps me to put flesh and blood on the skeleton of facts. In doing this, I can see the past as a living entity we must respect and learn from.

Or, as my friends say, I write because I've got a satellite dish for a brain and if I didn't write, I'd be weaving baskets in a nice quiet facility somewhere . . . :)

Catherine Delors said...

I am not the "writerly type" you describe. I can spend a day without writing a word, and not contemplate suicide by the evening.

I am a compulsive writer. I find writing pleasurable and addictive. Easy to start, hard to stop. I am hooked now, so I will go on.

Sheramy said...

I write my scholarly things because I like contributing to the ever-growing knowledge and understanding of ancient art. When I'm feeling analytical and organized and wanting-to-be-in-control, I work on those writings.

I got back into fiction after about 15 years of not even trying to write fiction because I wanted to tell a story about an artist whose work I admire. Simple as that! Then I discovered I liked the not-knowing-where-it-might-go, the playing-with-words, the no-footnotes, the **freedom** of imagining beyond the "facts." When I'm feeling restless and reckless, I think about my fiction.

Julianne Douglas said...

Susan: When you say you always have a story in your head, do you mean an entire, albeit sketchy, plot, or just an idea that might someday turn into a story? Are you constantly dreaming up and weighing ideas for new stories? You seem to write very quickly. Do you think this is because you spend so much time thinking about your stories when you're not actually writing?

C.W.: I agree with you on the importance of understanding history in order to make sense of the present. Why do you choose to explore history through fiction rather than through scholarly investigations?

Catherine: Can you expand a bit on "pleasurable"? Is it that writing takes you out of your "real world" troubles, or does the pleasure derive from the intellectual challenge of creating (or something else entirely)?

Sheramy: It's interesting that you like the freedom of writing fiction, yet you choose to write a genre of fiction that is defined, in a way, by its factual constraints. Have you ever written any non-historical fiction? I wish I could be as free in writing my fiction as you seem to be. I think having a scholarly background in literature is both a blessing and a curse.

cindy said...

julianne, i'm like you. i don't shrivel up if i don't write. in fact, i haven't written for five months. eee! gotta get into it again with some novel 2 research. i do write because it is a challenge and i def enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

i wrote when i was a teen and stopped all through my 20s. when i decided to write a novel, it was just baby step challenges : 1. write a novel i can be proud of 2. land an agent 3. publish novel

for me, the ultimate goal is to write something you love and be able to publish and share with other readers.

Susan Adrian said...

Questions!

[When you say you always have a story in your head, do you mean an entire, albeit sketchy, plot, or just an idea that might someday turn into a story?]

I never know the plot until I write it. I write from a character in a situation, and so far--since I "let go"--once I finish writing a book another fascinating character/situation is ready. Sometimes it comes before the other is done, like the one I'm just starting now.

[Are you constantly dreaming up and weighing ideas for new stories? You seem to write very quickly. Do you think this is because you spend so much time thinking about your stories when you're not actually writing?]

Not at all. I don't allow myself to think very much about the next story at all until I'm ready to write it--one at a time is enough for me. I'm not sure I do write quickly, but if I do it's just because I'm very workhorse about it. I have a word count goal, and if don't make it I have to catch up. Also it helps that my books are YA and thus a half to a third the length of historicals. :)

Sheramy said...

**Sheramy: It's interesting that you like the freedom of writing fiction, yet you choose to write a genre of fiction that is defined, in a way, by its factual constraints. Have you ever written any non-historical fiction? I wish I could be as free in writing my fiction as you seem to be. I think having a scholarly background in literature is both a blessing and a curse.**
Ah, but my fiction project couldn't be more different from my scholarly work (van Gogh vs ancient Greece/Rome) so I can afford to feel unencumbered when writing about Vincent--even though I have been as rigorous with historical research as if it were a scholarly project. I've always been a history buff and fan of reading historical fiction (like you said, it comes down to what one likes to read!) so it makes sense that's where I'd gravitate. I don't think I'd be very good at a contemporary story. I like the escape of jumping into another era and I LOVE learning new things!

Catherine Delors said...

[Can you expand a bit on "pleasurable"? Is it that writing takes you out of your "real world" troubles, or does the pleasure derive from the intellectual challenge of creating (or something else entirely)?]

Escape my real world troubles? Very soon, Julianne, when you are published, you will discover that writing has become part of your real world troubles. No escapism in it any more.

So what kind of pleasure is it? The pleasure to do what I feel I am meant to do, I suppose.

As for addiction, I mean it literally. I write because I need to write, even when I know I shouldn't, because it's 2 am and I should get some sleep before daylight. It's not pleasure anymore then, except maybe the guilty pleasure of doing something you know you shouldn't do?

Do I make any sense? In any case, I am looking at your post on Lyon silks as I write this. They are so gorgeous!

Julianne Douglas said...

Catherine, I loved your comment about writing becoming part of your real world troubles. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time!

I wish I could catch the addiction bug. It happens to me in spurts, when I get really into the book I'm writing, but it's hard for me to get to that point consistently. I think it's because I always feel guilty when I ignore the kids or my husband to write.

And yes, the silks are gorgeous. I love the one with the lion or whatever kind of beast it is on the bottom row.

Julianne Douglas said...

Cindy: When you made your three-book deal, did you have to submit an outline or synopsis of the sequel, or did it sell just described as the sequel?

I'm like you. I've spent long months worrying about book one and researching book two--it's time to get busy writing! If you need a writing buddy to keep the momentum going (once it starts!) let me know!

Julianne Douglas said...

Susan,

You know I'm a great admirer of your output. How great you're able to be diligent about your word count goal. I always have trouble setting daily goals because: a) chasing three kids around, my days don't follow a discernible pattern; it's hard to make a one-size-fits-all goal; b) I'll often need a pause between chapters to do some necessary bit of research. I am like you, though, in that I can only focus my energies on one main project at a time.

I hope your newest project is going well!

Julianne Douglas said...

Sheramy,

I forgot how different your novel subject and your work subjects are. I suppose it would be an escape. I, too, love the learning part of writing historicals. As I look around at the pile of books and articles I've gathered in the last few months, I have to remind myself that I'm not in school again!

cindy said...

julianne, my editor asked if there was a sequel. i told my agent, yes, i have one in mind. and that was it--she made an offer for the sequel! no questions asked.

i guess that's not as farfetched as the picture book offer, which i'm still astounded by and very excited about.

i'll let you know when i begin writing again! *bites nails* =D

Anonymous said...

Or, as Samuel Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

KCJ

Julianne Douglas said...

KCJ,

These days, hardly any of us write for the money--very few authors see much return on their investment, especially when you divide the income by the number of months/years books take to write!

Thanks for commenting...I know who you are! :)