Over the past several weeks, the writers at Novel Matters have hit on tough topics such as self-publishing, disappointing sales results, writer’s block, and other challenges of the writer’s life.
From the beginning of this blog, we’ve attempted to offer responses to the question, “Why write?” and, more particularly, “Why write fiction?” Over time, the answers have ranged from the sublime: Art for art’s sake! To the mundane: I write because I must. To the dreary: I’ve no idea why I write, I’d stop if I knew how.
Perhaps our reasons for writing change like our socks and underwear. Likely, we make up our excuses as we go along until eventually we’ve been at it so long that turning back, rather than continuing, is the absurd choice.
Part of me wonders if writers don’t suffer from the same affliction as gamblers. Just one more crack at it. One more hand (idea), one more pull at the slots (alluring character), one last spin of the wheel (novel) and then I’ll stop.
Except “stop” doesn’t mean stop, it means “win.”
One more shot at this book-writing thing and I’ll hit the big time. Donald Maass will ask me to dance. Amy Einhorn will salivate just hearing the premise. Readers will line the streets waiting for my autograph. Paparazzi will fall out of trees attempting to photograph me in a bikini.
Okay. Maybe not that last one.
If we’re honest, we all have a fragment of our soul that believes literary success—maybe even fame, but at least a pay cheque—is around the next corner. We’re addicted to the idea that our little book might be The One.
This mildly crazed part of us isn’t the piece that rules in the clear daylight. Certainly not. We have sensible reasons then. Good ones like art for art’s sake, and I write because I must. It’s only at night when we can’t get to sleep, or worse, are woken out of a deep slumber, that the niggling dark part of our soul pipes up and whispers, “Psst. Have I got a hot-topic premise for you. A sure-fire bestseller. Better turn that light on, kid.”
If you’re thinking I disparage this part of my soul, you’re reading me wrong.
It’s that unreasonable hope in my soul that keeps me typing when all reason tells me to get up from my desk and get a job at Taco Bell. A real job. Respectable. The kind that comes with a regular pay cheque and the self-respect attached to it. It keeps me reading, writing, improving, studying the industry. It keeps the ideas flowing when common sense would have stanched the flow ages ago.
After awhile—years—that unbalanced corner of our soul becomes the one thing we count on when we face relentless reality and rising odds. It becomes the only truly sane thing about us as writers.
I may never be a great writer.
Then again, I might be.
In Anton Chekhov’s The Sea Gull, Nina is a young actress who, after two heartbreaking years, returns to the Sorin estate with the knowledge that she will never be a great actress. She speaks to Konstantine—a writer who is in love with her, but whom she does not love—about her losses, which include her youth, career, and an infant son conceived out of wedlock. Near the end of her monologue she says: “Now I know, I understand. Kostya, that in our work . . . acting or writing . . . what matters is not fame, not glory, not what I used to dream about, it’s how to endure, to bear my cross, and have faith. I have faith and it all doesn’t hurt me so much, and when I think of my calling I’m not afraid of life.”
The unreasonable corner of a writer’s soul is the faith that makes it hurt less, that makes us not afraid.
That’s why artists were given the provision of owning a dark, crazy portion of our souls.
Shuffle through the loose bits of your soul for this difficult to find scrap. And, if you find it, embrace it. Strange as it is, unreasonable, and unseemly, it’s destined to become your best friend.
Are you in touch with your inner crazy? We’d love to hear about it.