“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” -George Orwell
I read this quote early on in my writing career and, as I’ve gotten a bit older, a bit more experienced, I find it to be very true for myself and for many of the authors I meet. Writing fiction involves creating life, a certain measure of imaginative godhood that can be a little overwhelming. In fact, without a notebook and pen to keep all this life catalogued and maintained, a writer would likely end up in the madhouse babbling on about people that don’t exist. When a character comes to life, really takes on a soul inside of an author, you find yourself not only writing about him, but talking to him, through him as you watch a story slowly unfold. You create entire worlds, parallel universes for these characters as they speak, as they live out the lives that you’ve created and, eventually, that sort of omnipotence you’ve created for yourself goes to your head.
Making yourself into the all knowing creator of an entire universe at the stroke of a pen is going to create a little vanity. It happens. But something else happens as well. As you’re writing, you find that the normal world you’ve lived in just isn’t cutting it. The trivialities of the daily grind, the banal, pointless chattering of talking heads and the uninspired begin to make you loathe work even more than most people already do. Your daydreaming intensifies and all you can think about is how nice it would be to tell the boss “shove it” as you walk out the door shooting the bird to every last trifling simpleton you’ve ever had to deal with in your professional career. You imagine that perfect little nest, your library where you’ll sit and write and continue to create works of art that will forever change the way literature is viewed by the human race. You’re going to be the next Hemingway or Wolfe or Shakespeare. Doing anything else, anything that might take you away from your writing feels utterly tedious.
Yep. Tedious. Tedious like being on your third cup of coffee staring at that blank sheet of paper or the flickering black cursor head on the screen where words ought to be. Tedious like having an image locked inside your mind, unable to bleed out from the pen because every time you try to start the story off it sounds like something you’d have written in grade school for a class project. Tedious is reading a 30,000 word manuscript you’ve spent months writing and finding that the entire thing needs a complete overhaul because you wrote a plot hole so huge you might actually trip and fall inside it if you aren’t careful. Yeah, writers can become vain, self centered, even lazy as people but it’s only because of the constant, sometimes daily struggle they’re enduring for their art.
Don’t believe me? Give yourself an hour. Sit down at a desk or a table with whatever instruments you’d prefer. Tell me your life’s story in 10,000 words or less. Make it entertaining. Hook me from the first paragraph, the first line, and don’t let me go until it’s over. Create a new world for me to experience through captivating characters and harrowing adventures that leaves me both satisfied and wanting more all at the same time. Make it pretty. Make it accurate. Give me something I’ll want to read again. Try it for an hour and see if you don’t get a headache. See if your back doesn’t feel tense from sitting in that chair, if your wrists and fingers and stiff and aching. It’s hell. Now, do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and every day until you have a story that’ll sell, that people will pick up off a shelf, download on their phone, and spend an hour reading.
Do all this and know that there is an editor, a critic, some fedora wearing neck beard with a high speed modem who is going to sit there and pick it all apart. Someone who is going to take what you’ve done and rip it to pieces simply because that’s the way some people are. He’ll find every grammatical error you swore to yourself that you caught. He’ll rip apart your usage, your style. He’ll murder your characters, bathe in their blood as he sets your world on fire and watches with a smile as it burns.
This is the way it’s always been, always will be. From ancient patrons to pulp fiction editors to the social media monster with its ravenous hunger for new and inventive entertainment, there will always be those that work to break down that others built. The internet has given more people than ever before the chance to share their art with a larger community than in previous generations. If you have an interest, some strange little niche you’d like to fit into, there’s almost certainly a webpage looking for content, an online magazine or gallery aching for new talent to come and keep their own projects afloat.
So why do it? Between the egotistical roller coaster of imagined godhood and online bullies defacing your creations for their own amusement, why bother with it?
That’s still a mystery. Every author has their own reason, their own demons driving them to create. Like any artist it’s a love affair, a romance more intense and passionate than anything you could ever hope to share with just one person. Like any love there is pain and, in that pain, you often find beauty. It’s exhausting at times, tiresome and antagonistic, but in the end, you do it because it’s what you love.