Writing with a purpose

After reading and thinking a lot about Paul’s last couple of posts on the writing game (part 1 and part 2), I find myself returning to the question of what motivates us to write. As you probably all know from the trad-pubbed anonymous mid-list author’s piece, the tale that she told was one that started high on dreams fueled by a major publishing house’s embrace of her book, backed with marketing promises and a huge advance, and ended with her slowly being pushed out of trad-pubbing and resigned to a life of shattered hopes and unfulfilled desires. All along the way, aside from with what her first advance (contract signed 1994) and her fourth (contract signed 2002) yielded her, she would not have been able to survive solely on her writing (she mentions having a husband (who presumably had a steady income)). Her article showed us the insides of a nasty business that does not provide a livelihood for its writers. And keep in mind that this revealing piece was written in 2004; things have not gotten better since then, quite the contrary in fact.

I think it’s safe to cross money off the list of reasons that may motivate most of us to stay hunched over our keyboards. But what does keep us there? In looking over previous posts, I noticed that I’ve written specifically on this issue twice (‘Why write?’ and ‘“The Hoax” and a writer’s motivation’), and on the related issue of having something to say twice as well (‘So what’s the point?’ and, somewhat less directly, ‘TV dinners’). It’s on this last issue that I’d like to spin a few lines this week.

Despite all current realities, there will still be a small group of people who do write for money and believe that their writing is just so damn good that they will be rewarded with riches and fame; and a tiny, tiny number of them will have played the commercial side of things well enough or had the universe coalesce in just such a way as to shower those prizes down on them. For the rest of us, however, let me propose this: That we write with something to say. The world probably has enough books about Bobby boinking Betty, or nasty space alien/monster versus hero/heroine, or a group of men-children getting drunk and wreaking havoc while on holiday. The books I have always enjoyed most have been those that made me think, that spoke to their times or, better yet, spoke to the timeless human condition that we all share. What our over-commercialized, mass-market driven, profit-obsessed, lollipop, bunny rabbit, and vampire-zombie cultures desperately need more of is intelligent books that have been written with a purpose and without one eye on the bottom line. (Such as, ahem, Tomorrow, as the Crow Flies, Randolph’s One Bedroom, and Green Skies. Wink!) From the looks of things we can’t expect much of that from the trad-pubbing companies anytime soon. It is up to us—what have you got in you?

Next week, Paul j Rogers on what he learned during his week of self-imposed exile on a rock he claimed for Queen and country in the South China Sea, subsisting only on mold and seaweed, and surrounded by angry fishermen on all sides.

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  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    For most people, pursuing any creative endeavour for money will prove to be a poor business decision because when you tot up the hours spent you’d have been better off flipping burgers for minimum wage (especially when you factor in training, maturing and ‘failed’ projects). Frustratingly, trying to enjoy your writing/painting/music perhaps get more difficult the more experienced you become and more time you have invested. If you mess about with watercolours on the weekend, it can be very exciting and relaxing. But many serious painters spend years on a painting or series of connected paintings, thinking about the project endlessly, and suddenly the stakes are a lot higher. Writing is the same. Still, becoming more proficient at something brings its own rewards…

  2. Andrew Oberg
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I would likely have something similar to say to those pursuing painting, music, sculpture, etc., but I think that those pursuits are perhaps more directly about self-expression than writing is. Writing also has its focus (typically) more fully on communication than other creative works, though admittedly that generalization could be argued. I guess my main point is that if you’re going to write a book, do it with more in mind than just trying to create a crowd-pleaser. And that sentiment, I think, can certainly be extended to other fields.

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