When asked ‘why’ I want to carry out a certain activity, feel interested in a certain topic, or find a certain person likeable or attractive, I am often unable to give a good answer. There isn’t always a logical reason – I just do. All the same, the question ‘why write?’ can be worth considering, given that writing a book can involve a great deal of time and effort without always bringing much obvious reward.
In Western society we are often conditioned to focus on achieving tangible goals, receiving external approval and gaining material benefits – which in this context means finishing a book, having it published, knowing that readers have found it entertaining or informative, and getting royalty payments.
These are all highly desirable outcomes, not to be devalued. But the sad truth is that not all writers are going to achieve them. Many books are never finished; many of those which do get finished are never published; many of those which do get published are seldom read or reviewed; and few authors make a good living from their royalties. And, even for the best of writers, outcomes are always unpredictable. This makes it important for the actual process of writing, not only the finished product, to be perceived as satisfying and worthwhile.
So, why write? Responding to an inner urge, one which may be difficult to explain, is perhaps the most fundamental and compelling motive. Some people feel they were born to write, in the same way that others know from early childhood that they were born to climb mountains, to heal the sick, to make scientific discoveries or to make music. This is their passion, vocation, destiny or soul’s purpose; the one activity which brings them ‘into the flow’ and if they are prevented from doing it they will feel frustrated and unfullfilled.
Writing can also be a means of self-directed therapy, personal development and education. Describing personal experiences, especially the more painful ones, can be a way of expressing emotions, and perhaps ‘reframing’ past events to find some positive meaning in them. Such pieces are often private, intended for the writer’s eyes only, though if they are published they may well be helpful to others who are going through something similar. While having no wish to attempt a full-scale autobiography, I have occasionally written directly about fragments of my own life, for example with an article in a medical journal about what is it like to have migraine, and using real incidents to illustrate points in my non-fiction books. Many friends have asked whether my short novel Carmen’s Roses is autobiographical and of course, along with most other novels, to some extent it is. Writers of fiction, sometimes without consciously realising it, often weave aspects of themselves into their stories even if the material is projected into other characters or the practical details are changed.
Turning to the educational aspect, writing either a fiction or non-fiction book often requires some study and research into a new field. Again, I’ll give a couple of personal examples. I wrote my first, and most successful, book as a way of organising my lecture notes while preparing for a postgraduate exam. Years later, the process of editing my uncle’s wartime memoir for publication stimulated me to read some fascinating books about fighter and bomber pilots and also to take a trial flight – a memorable experience which it had never occurred to me to undertake before. Many professional authors employ research assistants to provide the background material for their books, but perhaps they miss something by not doing it themselves.
So, whatever your own reasons for writing, I would suggest it is just as important to enjoy the journey as to reach the destination.
And finally: a note to say that Carmen’s Roses is now available in various ebook formats on Smashwords – price just $2.99 USD. Please click here for details.