Thursday, December 15, 2005

Why do we write?

The other day I was doing a work project with some people from my ward and a guy asked me how much I make on an average LDS novel. Some people are kind of cautious about answering that, but until I can say, “Well over six figures,” I don’t think I have much to hide.
So I told him that I usually make a little over $10k. He looked at me strangely for a minute, and then asked how long it takes to write a typical book. After some quick mental calculations, he shook his head and asked, “Why even bother?”

Now, being the witty, clear-tongued writer that I am, I came up with a retort that left his brain spinning. He agreed that indeed, I do know exactly what I am doing and that he might even try writing a book himself. So, having straightened out another confused reader, I toddled over to Jerry’s for a big Pastrami Burger and fries.


Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly what happened. Maybe I mumbled something about how I was going to make more money on my next book—it really takes awhile to build up an audience. And hardcover books earn higher royalties. And then there is the whole national market, where people can potentially earn BIG bucks. Although most don’t . But, well, you don’t know if you don’t try . . . Until, he nodded in kind of a confused way and went to talk to someone who actually made sense.

So by way of penance, I’d like to try and explain why I write and maybe find out why you write (if you do.)

The thing is, it’s all a little confusing. I hear people say, “I couldn’t stop writing anymore than I could stop breathing.” At which point I usually think that they must go through a ton of paper. But seriously, I think I could stop writing. Yes, it would be hard to have all that free time—although my kids might wonder who that guy is who used to live upstairs with the desk and computer. But I’d survive. Would I miss it? Yes. Would I turn blue and pass out? I don’t think so.

Is it about the money? Yes and no. I don’t go fishing just to catch fish. I like being with nature. I like the smell and sound of the water. I like the relaxation. And I’m happy fishing even if I don’t catch any fish. But if I knew the lake, pond, or stream had no fish at all, I wouldn’t fish. The chance that I’ll catch something makes it all come together. I feel the same way about writing and money.

Is there any serious writer out there who doesn’t at some point dream about the huge advance? About receiving a foreign royalty check that would pay for a three week vacation in that foreign country? You don’t plan your annual budget around it, but the fact that it is—at least theoretically—possible, makes it exciting. Going back to my fishing analogy, what if a HUGE fish is just about to take my bait? If there was no chance of ever making a dime, I’d probably still write, but not as much, and it wouldn’t be quite as fun.

But it’s not all about money. I know how much a typical LDS novel makes and yet I still write them instead of spending my time selling herbs and vitamins to my neighbors, or guarding some car lot at night, or stocking shelves, or any number of things that would probably make more money.

I love the thrill of writing an especially suspenseful scene. I love hearing my wife laugh when she reads a funny part. I love bringing may family up into my room and having each of them type one of the last five words that finish my book. I love typing THE END. I love holding my book for the first time. I love going into a library and finding that my books are checked out. I love when people tell me I kept them up until two in the morning. I love thinking that in Heaven my grandparents might be reading my books. I love knowing that I do something really well in a way that no one else can. I love thinking that maybe my great, great, grandkids will enjoy my books one day. I love helping new writers discover how talented they are. I love it all.

So that’s my answer. Next time someone asks me I’ll be prepared.


Anonymous Melanie Goldmund said...

Sometimes I write because I want to read. I'll be looking for a particular kind of story, and eventually, I realize that it hasn't been written yet. Or that somebody tried, and didn't fulfil my expectations. If you want it done right, I think, you've got to write it yourself. And then I give it a go.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

You've got me thinking now, Jeff. Why do I write?

I think it's because it gives me validation as a unique person. In a world that is so set on destroying people's uniqueness and trying to make everyone exactly the same, it's my way of staking my claim and saying, "I am different. I'm not just a mom or just a wife or just a this or that. I'm unique, now get over it!"

It's also a self-esteem boost for me.

I have thought from time to time about quitting, but then I realized that a vital part of me would be lost if I did. I love it. I hate editing, I hate having to go back and insert details that I forgot, but you're right. There's nothing like writing those two little words at the end -- the end.

12:34 PM  

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