2: Why even bother to write? A lot of pain, for very little gain.
Quite simply: because you love it. If you don’t, give up now, no one will think any less of you, most won’t know and those you told about your ‘dream’ will have soon forgotten. Once you have ticked the first box, then ask yourself (again) why do I want to write? Here’s why I do it: I want to tell interesting stories that entertain, educate and have soul. Which is the same as saying; writing books that I would love to read. You may have a different agenda; knowledge, make sense of the world, sharing, escape, self-help, leaving a legacy (in case they don’t name a day after you or build a statue – more men this!) literary skill advancement – which may well, just be maintenance, rather than any advance. I could go on, everyone’s different, but, it doesn’t matter what it is, make sure you have an answer, because someone will ask you.
George Orwell said one reason people write is for egotism, some definitely do, but less these days, and again this is more a man-thing. Think about writers that you have heard bragging, nearly all men. So from that point of view Orwell was right. I write like a lot of others because I have something to say, or at least I think I do, and that is part of the belief and confidence you need.
Make sure you have something you want to say. And make sure that something excites you, that falls together at some point in the body of your writing and you feel a mini epiphany. If you don’t feel it, why should anyone else? If you don’t feel it, if you are never going to feel it, don’t bother, go shopping, watch a sports match, watch crappy tele. Be prepared to feel the pain and elation of your characters. I was working on the final instalment in a trilogy of books, 450,000 words in, tears were running down my cheeks and my wife was concerned for my mental health. (“Suffering is only intolerable if nobody cares!” – Cicely Saunder.)
“God, what’s wrong, has someone died?”
“Yeah, in my book!”
“Oh, right. I thought someone had really died!”
Imagine a book that has made you cry, maybe for the first time ever. Mine was: Unbearable Likeness of Being – Milan Kundera, when the dog dies – I don’t even like dogs that much. That is when a light goes on, and you think with greater clarity. I want to be able to do that! Well, now try and imagine that you have lived within a main character, walked in their shoes, thought like them, behaved like them, slept like them, eaten like them, had sex like them. If you are brave enough, you have the power to kill them off, even though you want them to live desperately, you might even lay down your life for them, because they are better people than you! When they die, you cry, but they have to die because in real life people we love die, and you are now not just a writer, you are a healer, you are showing other people they are not alone, if you so choose? You are no longer looking in at the words; you are looking out from the character.
But when you have based a character on someone dear to you that you loved and they die, your loved one dies again, not as bad as the first time (hopefully!), but you have not only written about it and cried, you have to go back and edit it, and you know with almost certainty you will cry again, even though you have told yourself otherwise! – can you deal with that? Can you really? Now you can start to see why some writers are so tortured!
So do you still want to be a fiction writer? If you do, stick close, we might just get through this together – might?
Next week: What should I do before I start? Will passively reading lots of books do it?