Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why Write?

Closing out my tour this week. I'll update with photos next week from the comfort of Florida. I will say Paul and Patty met me on my LA stop and were the highlight of the tour.

Now for today's subject

Why do people become writers? While I was endeavoring to become published for most of the 1990s I still wrote almost everyday. I was rejected on two different books dozens of times and, occasionally felt down and didn’t write for a day or two, in general I wrote everyday. I did it for one reason and I think the only reason anyone should become a novelist: I was compelled to. Much like now, I feel the need to write something every day. The only difference is that now if I don’t write I realize someone from Putnam will eventually say something to me. Something that probably wouldn’t be pleasant. But that’s not the reason I sit down and work on something everyday. I do it because I feel a need. If I don’t write I have a vague feeling of disquiet. I feel like a skipped a meal or missed a run.

That’s why I now understand other writers who get frustrated when someone walks up to them and says, “I want to be a writer.” If they are not compelled to write everyday then, frankly, I don’t need the competition or the comments. Writing is hard. It takes effort, energy and emotional capitol. If it doesn’t then I think it shows on the page. When I read a Jonathon King novel I know how much of his own being he puts into a book. Not because he’s a friend of mine and I see how hard he works but because his books radiate a sort of subtle, dark energy. That’s the kind of stuff I want to read as well as write. I have a hard time reading a book that doesn’t compel me to read it. Any book of any genre.

At book signings I always get people that say “I wish I had time to write a book.” The best answer I ever heard to this was from the husband of a Florida writer who looked at the person who made that exact comment and said, “What the hell are you doing that’s so much more important that what we do? She still had time to write a book.” It comes down to the need to write. If you need to write, you will. Everything else will work out. There is justice in the universe. If not now, then in the future. If you are compelled to write everyday then you are a writer.


  1. Hey, Jim, it was great to see you in LA, and thanks for bringing a little class to our fair city. Your post is spot on. For most writers, writing isn't what we do it's what we are.

    Just recently a guy came up to me and expressed an interest in writing a book about the situation at his job. I suggested he take a class to get him motivated. He said, "Yeah, I'll just need a few weeks and I'll have that writing stuff nailed." if.

  2. Patty,

    That guy reminds me of a line from Chaucer: "Life so short and the craft so long to learn."

    I write because, as hard as it is and as painful as it can be, when it's going well it ranks right up there with great food, morning sex and playing blues to a crowded bar.

  3. David, writing better than morning sex? Seriously?

  4. Thanks, Jim, for this post. Yes, we write because we have to write. Even if I were not fortunate enough to be published, I would still write everything I write. I might not revise as much, but a storyteller is a storyteller, whether in fiction or non-fiction. I have a picture on my desk, ripped from an old calendar. It's a beautiful study of a rider from the Spanish Riding School about to enter the arena, the horse standing to attention, the rider resplendent in his show clothes - the words above say, "You were born to do this." I love it for the horse and rider, and even more so because it says everything I feel about my writing - being published is the icing on the cake.

  5. True story. Miami 1992. I'm looking to buy a house in Coconut Grove. I'm on the phone in a 3-way conversation with my broker and the broker for the seller. The issue: when to visit the house. My broker says, "Oh, Paul can come over any time. He doesn't work. He's a writer."

  6. Patty,

    I never said writing was better than morning sex, it's just that writing is in that Top 3. If I was forced to choose, I would rank them this way:

    1. Morning sex
    2. Writing
    3. Playing blues in a bar

    I hope that clears it up.

  7. David...whew! You had me worried there for a minute.