With such a staggering number of books on the market and more to come, why is writing important? Only a small percentage of writers have ever made a living at writing (and most of those were people who wrote books on how to make a living at writing), and that percentage seems to be shrinking. More than 80% of books sell fewer than 100 copies. Maybe 50% sell only about ten copies or so. So, why write? The wonder of writing fiction is that a story born in one mind grows to full power in another mind. But what if you don’t have readers, or at least not many? And why take the time to learn the craft since some of the books that do sell are poorly written tripe?
If nothing else, this conundrum that writers face today makes us focus on what we get out of the writing process itself.
For me, writing is something that connects the parts of my life, even though I don’t always write. I once quit a job to write a novel, but found I had no intrinsic talent. I was young and didn’t have the wisdom to know that there are two types of talent — the intrinsic kind that’s called talent, and the learned kind that is in itself a kind of talent, the kind that that comes from trial and error. Even if I had known about the second kind, I didn’t have the patience to write the million words it supposedly takes to learn how to write, so when life got in the way, I let it. Other things simply were more important. (Some people believe you have to have a passion for writing, that it has to take precedence over everything else, but writing is not always “life” nor is life always “writing.” If one does not live, one has no reason to write.) Years later when my life had pretty much come to a standstill because of various misfortunes, I took up writing again, but when my life mate died, I lost the desire to write fiction. Perhaps one day the desire will come back along with a different focus and possibly a different talent.
Writing for me is also an emotional outlet and a way of discovering why I feel the way I do. While struggling to deal with the death of my long-time mate, I poured out my heart and my soul and my grief into journal entries, letters to my deceased mate, and blog posts. I don’t know if I could have survived without that outlet. A book compiled of some of the best writings of that time, Grief: The Great Yearning, has now been published, yet when I wrote during this time (except for the blogs, of course), I had no expectation of my words ever being read. I wrote for me.
Reasons for writing are as varied as those who write. For example, in a recent online discussion, horror writer Rob M. Miller said, “I write because I have something to say, and I want it to be heard.” Even if there was a chance he wouldn’t be heard, he would still write because, as he says, “I write to self-explore my mind, to self-medicate, to share my worldview.”
I like those reasons for writing. Too often when I ask writers why they write, they say they only want to entertain, which makes me cringe. If entertaining others is the only reason for writing, then why bother? The “others” can find a lot more entertaining things to do than to slog through someone’s unseasoned prose. But if you’re writing to share your worldview or to explore your mind, then your writing actually has value. Of course we want people to enjoy what we write, but entertainment can’t be the only reason to write, unless it’s for our own entertainment. Writing is a good way of passing the time. It’s better than watching television and it could change someone’s life, perhaps our own.