Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Do We Write?

There are probably any number of reasons why people decide to become writers, but I can only talk about me.  Here are my reasons. 

I write Fiction.  I write because I have an ego that tells me I have something to say that people will want to read.  Vanity knows no limits, right?  I also write because it would be nice to have readers pay for what I say so I can earn money.  Craven commercial ambition.  No surprise there.  But then there is that other reason for writing which isn't as easy to explain - that gnawing, ceaseless hunger to turn the imagination into settings and characters and plots of fear and love and violence between good and bad elements of humanity's extremes; that desire to create worlds over which I have complete control while being happily free of any fallout which might occur.  I guess it's all about power.  Is that a God Complex?  Maybe, although I never intended to reach that high!   

From my earliest years, and I'm sure many writers would say this, I've looked at people and places in my world as scenes in a book or movie.  When I first tried my hand at writing, these scenes ended-up as screenplays - crude, formless scribblings that depicted dramas out of simple, everyday occurrences.  Over time, I perfected these screenplays until I actually got an agent, and had modest success.  But eventually I transitioned to short stories, and then later to the novel.  I rarely wrote in the first person because I found it too limiting.  It was important for me to be along with my characters no matter where they went, no matter what time of day or night.  I wanted omniscience.  My objective was to see the world not as it was, but as I would have it be.  Damn!  That is God-like, isn't it? 

Basically, I write to guide the destiny of my characters and hopefully to entertain.  I don't write to inform, although that's sometimes a beneficial by-product of a good story (author experience and research).  Other than the obligatory term papers and business reports I was forced to write for college and work,  my first choice as a writer was always fiction.  That's because I am lazy.  Pure and simple.  It takes a certain amount of patience and skill, not to mention a high degree of talent, to write non-fiction.  I could never be an historian like Doris Kearns Goodwin or master biographer like David McCullough.  They spend years researching, interviewing, building careful listings of source materials.  They are wonderful writers who through research and skill make their subjects come alive for the reader.  But they are stuck having to describe the people and places and events as they were.  They have no control over their world!  They are writers of fact, which is simply too much work and responsibility for me.

Fiction, on the other hand, allows for great latitude.  A writer can create multiple characters with peculiar habits and dangerous lifestyles, and can manipulate events so that someone lives and someone dies.  Or a character leading an ordinary life can be suddenly thrown into extraordinary circumstances and become a hero by hidden skills or simple luck.  It's all up to the writer.  The setting can be New York or Paris or Istanbul.  It doesn't matter.  There are no real boundaries to fictional characters or locales.  Through characters, the writer can be anyone and do anything.  Supposedly, it was E.L. Doctorow who once said, "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."  I believe he may have a point.  Yet writers are not so much delusional as they are secret actors, living vicariously through their creations.  It's harmless, satisfying, and possibly even therapeutic.  It was James Thurber who may have caught the true spirit of the fiction writer in his short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  His message was timeless.  Imagination frees us from the ordinary - even from ourselves.  And who doesn't want to be someone else - at least for a little while.

Now don't get me wrong, here.  I'm not suggesting I speak for all writers.  Motivation is a complex subject.  No one can be certain about why we do anything we do - especially writing.  But I do know that in my case, writing has given me an important way to harmonize my life.  It isn't merely an escape, although I suppose it can be used that way.  It offers a better perspective of the world - dare I say, a more positive view of the disorder in our day-to-day lives.  If that sounds crazy, forgive me.  But that's how writing has affected me. 

Fiction writing, of course, hinges on the ability to imagine all sorts of things, to believe the impossible can be overcome.  And writers are dreamers.  They believe in the possible, and the shear determination of their characters to bring justice to the world.  It's all about imagination.  In fact, there is a quote from somebody, I don't know who and I'll probably get it wrong, but it goes something like this:  By using chemistry and physics, I exist; by using imagination, I live. 

I guess that about sums it up.

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