Money. We all know it can’t buy happiness. But, as Groucho Marx said, “it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.” And that’s something. Or not?
In any case, on one thing we can all agree. If someone wants to become filthy rich and do that real fast, writing is not the way to go.
Indeed, this should be immediately apparent if we stop a second and think about the time and effort even a single book requires.
Besides, according to the Nielsen Book research for 2015 only a very small number of books (500) sold on average more than 200.000 thousand copies. And they represent an incredibly small fraction of all the books published–I’m speaking of fractions of a percent. This holds true in the United States and everywhere else.
Publisher’s Weekly depicts an even gloomier landscape. It says that in 2006 the average book sold less than 500 copies.
Then, to make things even more dismaying, in this article by Derek Murphy we get to discover that an even smaller percentage of indie writers make money from their books.
So, if writing does indeed seem one of the slowest and most uncertain ways to make money, why do so many people start writing, and keep writing?
Now, while I cannot say for sure what it is that motivates other writers, I sort of know what makes me tick. So here is a list based on my own experience.
1) I write because I have something to say
In fact I believe a story, even a very short story, is always inextricably linked to a message, a core idea or principle the author wants to convey. A story is never just a funny anecdote or a peculiar event. It requires a commitment on part of the author to give it a certain meaning.
I don’t believe literature can exist without a message, a value. Of course in some books the message can be articulated more vocally than in others. But it’s always there. A book with no message or core idea is a telephone directory. Or even worse. Because, at least, a telephone directory has a function.
However, having something to say isn’t the same as wanting to teach something. In fact while teaching can be so problematic as to ruin the narrative drive of your story, expressing yourself and your ideas through the lenses of fiction rarely is. Especially considering the incredible power that have such literary devices like metaphors and allegories.
2) I write to put order in my thoughts
When we speak we don’t have much time to think adequately about what we want to say. So we often follow the path of least resistance. Or end up having to stop and rephrase what we have just said.
Writing is a much slower process. This gives me plenty of time to read and reread what I’ve written.
More often than not, upon rereading I realize what I really wanted to say. And insights of any sort flash through my brain. Really, writing is like creating avalanches. You write a simple line. Then you let it rest on the page for a while. And when you reread it those words have already began to shift on the snow-white page, to slid downward toward the real gravitational center of the story, toward that place that makes all things real, even in fiction. So I follow my words in the progressive descent and don’t stop adding and modifying them until they have exhausted their energy.
3) I write to create beauty
Sometimes, reading I come across some passages that make me laugh, or cry. It’s for those moments I love reading. Because reading is one of the few ways we human have devised to cry sweet tears.
That said, being strongly related to our chimp cousins, we have also a formidable impulse to imitate. As a result for any serious reader the desire to first imitate and then even perfect the book they love is a natural one.
I know it was and still is so for me. Even if writing can be an exhausting endeavour at times. Of course, provided you’re not shitting out a formulaic story after the other.
4) I write to grow
Because writing is like a laboratory. You can put together different people in every setting you can think up and see what happens.
Of course, characters are just that–characters. They don’t have a life of their own. But, I believe, they behave according to a mixture of the conscious directives and desires of the writer and the Jungian collective unconscious.
For me, they therefore act as sort of self-reflective lenses.
5) I write to remember
In fact, when I write or just think about writing I end up remembering a lot of details about my past. Things I would otherwise have lost.
These can be very small details, like how I was fascinated by the way milk spread through tea when I was at my grandmother’s–she had transparent cups that led themselves perfectly to such observations.
Of course, these details and happenings are then mixed and re-elaborated in such a way that by the time the story is finished no one but the author can still spot them.
For instance, the example above could be stylized as something spreading into something else. Slowly and gradually. With the observer experiencing a sense of wonder for the process and its irreversible nature.
This could lead to a scene about pollution. Or maybe about love and marriage. Perhaps a scene examined from a naive, childlike point of view.
6) I write to celebrate
Yes. With memories also comes celebration. Of course, as a rule this doesn’t end up on the page. But it fills me up with nostalgia and love and longing and wonder and bewilderment. It drains me. Yet it also energizes me.
I write and think of the people I loved, of the people I lost. Of what it was like life when I was a child. And later as an adolescent. I think of my personal history, filled with mistakes and memorable scenes–generally the ones where I ended up squirming with shame or guilt. I think about friends and passing acquaintances.
I think of things like these. It hurts a bit. But, again, it’s a kind of hurting that’s also healing. So I keep writing. And celebrating.
7) I write to become famous
And make a lot of money and be remembered. Of course. Who doesn’t?
Well… more than mere fame and the money, what matters to me is having enough to live off my writing, and to reach as many people as I can. To offer them a few hours of interesting fun.
8) I write to have more time for myself
Because having more time is the only thing that really matters.
Working a full-time job while writing on the side can help you pay the bills. But chances are you’re never going to be fully satisfied. Sure at your day job they pay you for your time. But unlike money, in this universe time moves only in one direction. And writing helps me to keep that in mind.
These are just my personal reasons. The most important and the ones I am aware of. The ones which shape most of my thoughts. But I’m sure that if I went and see some shrink I would end up adding to this list.
We humans are like trees. What we see of each other is just a part of the whole. The roots are hidden deep into the earth, but just as essential as the sun-kissed leaves are.
So, maybe, just maybe, I might add things like I write because otherwise I would turn into a serial killer. Or maybe that I write because otherwise I would go crazy. That I write because it bolsters my self-esteem. Because it makes me feel like a god. And so on.
But given how much shrinks cost I’m afraid I will be able to afford to go and see one only when I sell my first million books. But by then I might have already figured out everything by myself. Or maybe I may be afraid of messing with my quirk but interesting and, at long last, lucrative mind.