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Why we write
By now, I've participated in a fair number of writing workshops/discussion groups. I've even chaired a few. In fact, I go well out of my way to participate in such activities! There is little in life I enjoy more than sitting around with other writers and working out the essence of story-stuff; what makes characters real, what constitutes a plot, the proper use of theme, and so on. As interesting as I find these topics to be, however, sometimes I just like to sit back, separate myself from the discussion, and observe my fellow writers.
We tend to have a lot in common, we writers. It's not just that we love stories, tend to be well-read, and get all dreamy-eyed when speaking of our literary heroes. No, it's far more than that! Assemble a roomful of writers, and there are several things you can almost count on. For one thing, few if any of the people present will be dressed in a flashy or stylish manner. A writer's 'uniform' seems to be defined as 'drab'; I've always believed that this is because the writer's soul lives in another place, where colors are more intense and ideas sparkle far brighter than any mere diamond ever could. Writers also generally tend to be quiet and hesitant at first, then to open up as time passes and he or she realizes that they are with like-minded friends. Then, once the floodgates open, it's often even more difficult to get an author to shut up than it was to get him talking in the first place.
Authors' eyes tend to glitter at the prospect of a truly outstanding plotline, or an idea for a story-structure that may have never been done before. While in many ways authors are quite cerebral, those whose art tends to deal with 'earthier' subjects such as murder and war and car chases can entertain themselves for hours discussing oddities like improvised weapons, interesting manifestations of brain damage, and what tactics really work when one has to ditch a pursuing officer of the law. Authors know that good fiction is solidly embedded in reality, and that the most interesting parts of reality can be found at the most extreme and ragged edges of the human experience. A good author, therefore, must be part criminal, part mystic, part murderer, part sadist, and part saint. Get a bunch of writers together, add a nice table to sit around and a few refreshments, and expect lively discussions on all of these aspects of humanity.
I've known bona fide risk-takers in my life, adventurers and criminals and heroes. I've even taken a few risks myself. No other group in society is more likely to honor risk-takers (or at least find their activities fascinating) as are writers. I'd give much to sit down for a long chat with Charles Manson, Mother Theresa, or Mario Andretti; so would any other writer worth his salt. Place a bunch of writers around a table, and eventually the conversation will drift around to "I knew a guy once who..." Everyone else will sit around and listen in rapt attention, if the story is outrageous or exciting or unlikely enough. And, of course, the story will eventually find its way into a dozen works of fiction, its flavor altered slightly for each telling.
Perhaps the most pervasive emotion one feels when sitting amongst writers in full interactive mode is sheer joy. Writers find joy in pushing the limits, in sharing story-nuggets, in experiencing the fringes of the human experience. They find joy in camaraderie, in sharing, and in each other.
Writers are happy people, in other words, if oftentimes a little strange in the eyes of others. Authors are happy primarily because they write, I would submit, because their lives are dedicated to expressing their innermost feelings and values and sharing them with others. Creativity, I firmly believe, is one route to happiness.
We don't write for the money; ask a typical writer about money, and they'll laugh in your face. We don't write for fame, either, or for immortality. Most of us will never achieve these goals and we know it, yet the knowledge slows us down not a whit. Rather: We write because it makes us happy -- because it fills us with tidbits and pieces of lives lived far beyond the normal scope of mundane existence. We write in order to bring our innermost hopes and joys to life in settings of our own choice, and we love sharing this joy with others like ourselves.
We write because writing, at its very best, is much akin to taking the raw stuff of the universe into our hands and sculpting it with our will, creating new, undreamed realities. We write because it's the closest thing to Godhood that man has ever experienced, or is likely ever to experience. We write because we are dreamers and thinkers.
Writing is what we love, who we are, all that we have aspired to be. It is the alpha and omega of our lives, our brief aria against the darkness of death. May there ever be writers among us, that Man's dreams might be given shape, his hopes given voice, and his emotions granted free reign. For no other artform can rival storytelling in reflecting the shape of Man's soul. None!
I've been privileged to lead a good writer's life. I am more grateful for this than for anything else that has ever happened to me. I'm not particularly successful in financial terms, perhaps. And, certainly, other authors have amassed larger numbers of readers. Nevertheless, I have indeed shaped raw universe-stuff in my mind and poured the fiery result out onto the printed page in the form of fiction. I've played god, in other words, in the most powerful way achievable by mortal man.
What more could anyone ask for?