This essay has been revised and updated from the version that appeared on June 5, 2011.
Long ago, in this very galaxy, I wrote a column for an ancient blogsite called FRIDAY CHALLENGE in which I answered the question, “Why Do We Write?” I admit, I had a brilliant answer! (;-)) You can read my first thoughts here: http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-we-write_19.html
Since then though, I’ve had second thoughts about how important this question is to ask.
Let me back up about fifteen years, to the year of Clarke’s First Odyssey. The seed for this thought fell on the ground the first time. My wife and two young kids were out garage-saling. We stopped at a house that had kid’s toys and clothing and got out. While my wife checked for treasures, I wandered into the garage.
[Let me pause in the story to give you a bit of local tradition. While every house I know of has a car garage – it’s hard to start a car that’s been sitting out directly exposed to -27 cold for any length of time – when we build the garages, most of us don’t INSULATE them. No reason; like I said, it’s a tradition. Typically, the interior of a garage presents an image of bare pine studs with some sort of exterior insulation laid over the outside on which clapboard or stucco or other siding is attached. From the studs hang numerous brackets, hooks, pegboards, sheet rock, shelves and electrical conduit or Romex® cable and either bare incandescent light sockets and bulbs or an arrangement of fluorescent fixtures and bulbs. Garages are usually utilitarian spaces reserved for cars, tools, lawn mowers, canoes, fertilizer spreader, grass-clipping catchers, roof rakes, snow blowers, garden implements and snow shovels.]
In the garage – in addition to the traditional décor – every space between the studs had a 14-inch piece of pine stud nailed into place at 12 or so inch vertical intervals. On each of the 14-inch pieces, paperback novels were packed side-by-side from the base plate to the rafters.
There were hundreds of books. Possibly thousands and all of the books were marked FOR SALE. I started in a corner and began to scan for titles that contained the words “star”, “alien”, “invasion”, the name of a real planet, a name that sounded like the name of a planet or anything that looked in any way “science fiction-y”
A guy approached me and asked, “Lookin’ for something in particular?”
He was only a little older than me and acted like this was his place, so I said, “Are all of those yours?”
Grinning, he nodded and said, “I’ve read every one of them, too!”
I’d noticed that while it was a broad selection, it seemed to be heavily weighted toward horror, romance and thriller. I was impressed. “All of them?”
“I was gonna be a writer, so I was told I had to read not only in the genre I wanted to break into, but outside of it as well. And I was supposed to keep current, too.”
I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, too! I said, “Did you get many things published?” Thinking I’d found a writer-soul-mate a mere four blocks from my home, I found my heart was racing. I confess was hanging on his every word.
Shaking his head, he replied, “Nope, so I gave up.” He meandered away to help someone fill a paper grocery bag with books, leaving me startled and heart-broken.
At that point in my career, I had no professional publications despite decades of throwing short stories, essays and novels at the heavy, quarry-stone walls of the Citadel of the Editarchs. Even then, standing in that slightly dank garage, I didn’t seriously consider giving up.
In the cold, hard light of the down-side of the second decade of the 21st Century, I have to honestly say to myself, “Why don’t you just give up? Why don’t you take up a hobby in which you might not only stand a chance of showing improvement, you might even take lessons! You’ll NEVER get really published!”
Of course, since then, I’ve had 50 professional publications, an uncounted number of unpaid publications that others read and comment on not including my personal blogs, and I have two novels, an agent, international publications. Yet even today, I confess I still feel that tug of rationality.
Then my inner writer exclaims, “What? Quit writing and give up this luxurious life of fame and fortune? ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’”
My honest conscience fires back, “I’ll bet you have no idea how many times you’ve had stories, queries, articles and essays rejected.” It adds in a perfect Steve Zahn rendition of his quip from YOU’VE GOT MAIL, “As far as I can tell, the internet is just a new way to get rejected by women.” It adds in a snide voice, “You’ve submitted 973 times and published 93 manuscripts. That’s a pub rate of 9.5% since 1990. Pathetic!”
The inner writer then points out, “While that may be true, the earlier years were typically 0,1, or 2% pub rates. Last year you had only 4 of 82 manuscripts published. That’s only 6.4%, and you didn’t even get paid for all of those!”
“True, but half of them were REQUESTED and MORE than half were paid for! And you’ve sort of become a regular at PERIHELION and might be a kind-of regular at ANALOG!”
The argument subsides and I’m left wondering what was it, standing in that garage fifteen years ago, that made me go back and keep writing when every logical bone in my body and the thousands of paperbacks on the wall said, “Take up STAR TREK model building! At least you’ll have something to show for it!”?
While there was probably a measure of sheer cussedness in there, I think what kept me going was a deep desire to speak my mind in a way that was so entertaining that no one would realize that I’d spoken it.
Boiled down to its bare bones and reconstructed like a dinosaur skeleton, I find that the reason I’ve kept on writing since I was thirteen might be summed up in the words of Jeremiah, “…read from the scroll which you have written at My dictation the words of the Lord to the people in the Lord’s house on a fast day. And you shall read them to all the people of Judah who come from their cities.” Jeremiah 36:6 (NASB)
I work to write what God directs me to – sometimes better than at other times. But always I want to write his word so that others can read them and see His glory and salvation.
And THAT’S the real reason I don’t quit.