Since I go to the Wesleyan Writers Conference on Thursday, I decided that, this week, I would answer a question that everyone has of someone pursuing a writing career: Why?
The simple answer is, because I love the English language and I love telling stories. I could add that this is all that I enjoy doing, but that’s a lie, and even to amend it by saying it’s the only thing I would do for money is not true, either. To say that it’s the thing I would enjoy doing the most for money is closer to the truth. The only problem with that answer is that, even if I weren’t paid for it, I would still write, and want to be published.
That answer lends itself more to the notion that people who wish to be writers must be egotistical to a degree. After all, how many people have the gumption to believe that other people want to hear what they have to say? And not only other people, but complete strangers of all ages, some of whom haven’t been born yet. That takes balls (or ovaries, I guess, if you’re a woman). It also takes an ego the size of Texas.
And yet, many writers are humble about their craft….to an extent. In my case, I’m learning what my limitations are, but I’m also learning what I’m good at, and if I didn’t think I was a good writer, or had the capacity to become one, I would keep a diary for my own pleasure, and nothing else. After all, why waste other people’s time in writing books that are so painful to read, labor pains seem like small pokes in comparison? My humility, therefore, is rooted in perspective. I realize that there was a guy called Shakespeare who lived once upon a time and wrote better than any of us ever will, and that there are great writers today (and more to come) who make all of us wannabe writers despair with their genius. On the other hand, I also realize there are writers published today (and in all ages) who should do us all a favor and never write another word as long as they live. With writers, humility also comes from the observance of two rules that can be applied to any profession: 1.) If you’re really that good, the work will speak for itself, and 2.) If you have to say how good you are, then you aren’t that good.
Another question one might have is, when did I decided to become a writer? The answer to that question is clearer than the previous one. I decided to become a writer during the summer between second and third grade. Since I was eight, that must have been in 1987. How strange to think that it happened the same year that my pet hamster died, indeed during the same season.
Here’s what happened: I went to the library, as I often did back then, to check out the maximum 10 books allowed on my library card [this limit was only for children; adults (over age 12?) could check out as many books as they wished]. At that point, I had read most of the more enjoyable books I could find in the children’s section (some twice), and wished that there were other stories to read. That’s when I realized that I could write those stories that no one else had written.
As I continue on my quest to be published and (vainly) to be recognized for my work, I try to hold on to the reason why I wanted to write in the first place. It wasn’t to win literary awards, become famous, or to have my books turned into movies. It was to write the kinds of stories that I wanted to read, but weren’t being written. In other words, I wanted to be a writer so that I could write stories for me.