Annnnd we’re back. At the conclusion of my last post, five drafts after I began my novel-that-wasn’t-supposed-to-be-a-novel (see said previous post, please), I had a 186,000-word novel, and the question was, what to do with it? Embalm it and stuff it into a desk drawer? Well… no. Not an option, partially since I had deliberately ended the novel on a cliff-hanger and was already engaged in the process of writing the sequel, but especially because of… something else, which brings me to the point of today’s epistle: Why We Do It, the ‘we’ being writers and the ‘it’ being the attempt to bring our literary offspring into spiritus mundi, i.e. the often harsh and coldly uncaring world.
(This is not, by the way, the same thing as the issue of Why We Write. Nope. Not at all, although the two things are, in fact, loosely related. But Why We Write is actually a fairly simple explanation, so I’ll spare any neophytes out there the process of agonizing over it with a quick, tell-all reveal: we do it because we really don’t have any choice in the matter. It’s the same with any field of endeavour that engages our collective passion, really. Jocks gotta get out there on the field and physically grunt and sweat their hearts out, trying to kill the opposition in what George Orwell rather disparagingly called ‘war minus the shooting.’ (He did, I swear. Go consult Dr. Google again, if you don’t believe me.) Adventurers have to scale mountains or negotiate impassable swamps or other very uncomfortable and pointless activities. And so on. (Okay, okay, to be completely fair, I guess we have to admit that any creative passion may appear pointless to those who don’t share it.) Some people are born storytellers, and they just have to tell stories. If I’d been born a thousand years ago, I guess I’d have been a scop (verbal storyteller) singing for my supper around evening campfires about Beowulf or Things That Go Bump In The Night. Or put it another way: American author James Branch Cabell once chronicled a writer who cried out, “I am pregnant with words! And I must have literary parturition, or I die!” A little melodramatic, perhaps, but… yeah, I think that’s kind of the way it is with most writers. And Salman Rushdie neatly encapsulated why we keep working on our stories when he said that, if he stops labouring on a work-in-progress, it sulks. Oh, yeah. It surely does.)
Anyway. Why We Do It. Yes. Despite all kinds of encouraging blather that I see on social media about writers writing for themselves… well, we do, yeah, on one level, sure… but (and this is a caveat of paramount importance) no writer writes simply for his/her own self. At least, I don’t think so. Ars gratia artis is all very well, but as a philosophy, it’s the equivalent of comforting fairy tales we tell our children, like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny and that all people are equal before the law and things of that ilk. Writers are no different from any other creative type, be they painter or actor or whatever, and the simple truth is: we want an audience. We want to share what we have created (preferably for money, so we can continue to create while indulging in minor things like eating and sleeping under a roof instead of a highway bridge, if you want to be crass but honest about it). Although we write in solitude, we certainly don’t crave that as an ultimate goal for our literary progeny. I mean, who writes their magnum opus and then seeks to hide it away in a crypt somewhere? No, no, no: we want people to coo over it, just as they do with any newborn baby. And we want them to keep on cooing over it, even as it becomes a gangly adolescent and then a mature adult.
Several posts back, I wrote about the first time I gave a public reading of my work (in grade four, he said modestly), and to quote myself: The reaction I did feel was more akin to Tom Hanks in Castaway when he shouts exultantly, triumphantly, to the darkened heavens, “I… have… made… FIRE!” Yeah. I didn’t need Dumbo’s magic feather: I had my words. My words, people! Hear them! I am Ozymandias, king of kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Uh, yeah… well, very possibly minus the slightly crazed youthful megalomania, I think that’s what any artist --- hell, any person --- wants: acceptance, appreciation and accolades of not only ourselves, but also of the fruits of our labours. I have made fire, indeed.
So there you have it. Why We Do It. The Three ‘A’s, we could call it.
(Should I be trademarking that?)