by Sean Chercover
The posts by David Ellis (Compromising Positions) and Libby (I Hate To Write) raised some interesting questions.
Dave asked: would we continue to write, if we were not being paid for it. Like Dave, my answer is yes. I wrote before I was paid for it, and I would continue if I were no longer paid (although I wouldn't give up trying to find a buyer). I know it's a cliche, but writing helps keep me sane (okay, not sane, but less insane) so I will always write, money or no.
But. I would be far less disciplined about it and I would probably write a lot less. And I would get less enjoyment from it. I write to entertain, but also in the hope of communicating something about the way I see the world to my fellow humans. I'm sure my fellow humans would get along just fine without my stories, but I would miss the interaction, and the feeling that my "message in a bottle" has been received.
Because, for me (and I suspect, for most of you) writing is ultimately about communication. I've never been a writer of fan letters, so I was surprised as hell when I got published and started getting emails from complete strangers who were entertained or moved or thought-provoked or just annoyed by my work. It's incredibly gratifying to know that the message in a bottle was not only received, but that it motivated someone to sit down and write to me. And while I don't love being told that I'm a morally bankrupt pervert, even the angry letters are testimony to the power of fiction to provoke a response in the reader.
Communication requires someone on the receiving end. Obvious, I know, but it's a big part of why I write. So writing stories and putting them at the bottom of a drawer would not give me a fraction of the pleasure that I get from writing stories and sending them out into the world. For me, it's like asking: If you couldn't have sex anymore, would you still masturbate. Sure I would, (at every opportunity) but it just ain't as much fun.
Strange, though, that my answer to Dave's second question, (which I'm paraphrasing as, "Do you write with the reader in mind?") is ... not really.
Years ago, I would become paralyzed by thinking about the reader while writing. "Is this what agents/editors are looking for?" "Is it as good as [insert name of admired book] here?" "Will readers hate my protagonist if he does so-and-so?" The questions came at me, fast and furious, until all writing ground to a halt. To get anything written, I had to forget about the imaginary agents, editors, critics, and bookbuyers living in my head.
Somewhere along the way, I came across a piece of advice from a successful author (whose name is lost in memory). The writer said:
Just write the book that you would want to read.
It was the best advice I've ever read. I wrote it on a post-it, and stuck it to the wall above my monitor. And read it often.
And it's not as simple as it sounds. Writing the book you would want to read is not the same thing as writing the book you would want to have written. The book you would want to have written is likely to be far loftier, with Big Important Themes[TM] and elegant descriptive passages guaranteed to impress your mom.
The book you would want to read is likely to be leaner, sharper, and more entertaining.
So I guess I am writing with the reader in mind, after all. But the reader is me.
Libby admitted that, like Patricia Highsmith, she actually hates writing, that it brings her misery, but she loves the feeling of having written. Which just proves that you don't have to love doing it to be good at it. I certainly have days (weeks) of misery while writing, and I've discussed my problems with the blank page on this blog, but I do enjoy it. Actually, I love it. I really can't think of a better job in the world.
Which is why, I hope, I will always be able to get paid for it. And why I would do it anyway.