We had a good discussion recently about writer obituaries, and what you might want yours to say. Several comments talked about writing for other than professional reasons. I liked what BK Jackson offered:
Above all, writing is my enjoyable escape and I want it to stay that way, regardless of volume. When I’m old, I want to be as excited about writing as I was in first or second grade when I was taught how to write my first sentence and that huge lightbulb went off in my head as I began to think about the power I would have of stringing sentences together to form stories.
Sure, most writers write in the hopes of bringing in some dough. They believe, as I do, that if you love your job you won’t work a day in your life.
Of course, by work I don’t mean the effort and toil that is required for success at anything. I mean in that colloquial sense of hating what you do. (Drew Carey: “Hate your job? There’s a group for that. It’s called everybody, and we meet at the bar.”)
I have a good friend who worked 20 years for a company where every day was a slog, and the culture chaotic. Being classically educated, he had his license plate changed to SISYPHS, a contraction of the mythological figure doomed for eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll to the bottom again.
Not so with writers who work for love and loot.
But that’s not the only reason to write, as BK noted. Indeed, there may be a reason even more important: to save us from a nasty, brutish, and dismal existence.
We all know our culture right now is a roiling sea of hate, anger, vitriol, scorn, and mendacity—and that’s just on Twitter.
So it is a noble task, in my view, for writers to provide a few hours of entertaining escapism. Indeed, the best thrillers and mysteries offer readers a form of “fear management.” They extend the hope that things like justice and love are still possible in a dark world. Time spent in a book like that is infinitely superior to hours ranting on social media, kicking the dog, or opening a new bottle of Beam.
But the act of writing itself, for yourself, is also balm for the spirit. We all know what it’s like to write in “flow,” to get lost in a world we create and the lives of characters who begin to live and breathe on the page. We know the feeling—rare though it may be—of sitting back and thinking, “Wow, that’s a great line” or “This scene really cooks.”
When a writer experiences the joy of creation, it’s good for the spleen.
Ishmael, when he felt a “drizzly November in my soul” and the desire to go around “knocking people’s hats off,” went to sea.
Writers go to the keyboard.
Maybe you don’t have a contract with a publisher, or a huge footprint in the digital space. Write anyway. Write because it’s good for you. Write novels, short stories, flash fiction. Write essays and poetry. Write whatever strikes your fancy. Then show this work to the people you love. Share it with friends. Write for your kids and grandkids (see Hooley, Steve). Write because for a few hours every day you can escape a drizzly November of the soul.
Commenter Barry Knister put it this way recently:
I am grateful for the unignorable impulse to write. Most people never have this impulse. If they write at all, it’s forced on them by the demands of work. When I stop to think of how much writing has meant to me, what life would be like without having long ago tested positive for the writing virus, I am hugely thankful for the disease.
A lawyer named George Bernau, in the hospital after a near-fatal car accident, had a revelation. “I decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of my life.”
So he wrote a novel, Promises to Keep, an alternative history of the JFK assassination. It got a $750,000 advance from Warner Books, a record at the time for a debut novel.
That’s not going to happen for the overwhelming majority writers, of course, especially in these risk-averse economic times.
But you can still write if that’s what you want out of your life.