Sunday, September 9, 2012

Post #262: In Which I Don't Write

Taken from here
If you're like me, you have a slightly one-sided affair with reading.  (Sheena knows what I'm talking about.)  I own more bookshelves than I do pairs of shoes.  Yes, shelves.  I can't even begin to count my books.  In fact, they've taken up every inch of shelf space, and have started collecting in stacks around my bed.  Every once in a while, I drop off a load of my least favorite books at the used book store in the back of my library, but I usually walk out with just as many new titles.  Thankfully my husband doesn't seem to notice, and if he does, he doesn't care.

I justify my hoard of books to myself by saying things like, "It makes me a better writer."  Makes sense, right?  That's the advice published authors are always passing down to us newbies.  Read!  Read!  Read!  To which my delighted little brain replies, YES!

A few weeks ago, I realized that maybe it takes a little more than just reading the books.  I mean, I highlight.  I take notes.  I have a journal for all my favorite passages.  But I'm not really looking for a lesson.  I love Howl's Moving Castle, but why?  It has to be more than Calcifer and Howl and Sophie.  It has to be something more than how much I laugh ever time I read it.  Jane Austin is on practically every girl's list of all-time favorite authors, but can any of us pinpoint what it is about her work, aside from, "C'mon!  She invented Mr. Darcy!"?  What is it about Persuasions that makes me read it at least twice a year?  Why does my heart pound when Anne reads Captain Wentworth's letter?  And more importantly, how can I make sure I'm applying these lessons to my own writing?

I've been asking a lot of these sort of questions this week.  What is it about my own writing that I love?  My characters, sure.  The plots, of course.  The act of sitting down and writing?  Not as much.  I don't dislike it, or I'd quit.  But that is the hard part of writing.  The work portion.  And I'd usually rather be daydreaming, thinking up the witty things my characters are going to say when they first meet each other, or trying to figure out what sort of world they live in.  But if I don't do it because I love the act of writing, then I have to ask myself, "Why do I write?"

I spent a few days in a panic, because I couldn't answer that question.  "I like it," didn't seem like a good enough answer.  A few of my friends weighed in, with things like, "To show everybody who said I can't that I can."  Or, "If I don't write, I am miserable."  Or, "Because I have to.  I'd go crazy if I didn't."  (Sabrina makes a good point here.)  Me, too, guys.  But that doesn't answer the underlying "why?" It was like splinters under my nails all week.

So I set out to do something counter intuitive for a few days.  I stopped writing, reading, editing--anything associated with stories.  My muse was not happy.  My fingers itched to work on something.  I doodled.  I played around with my guitar.  I baked at least four dozen cookies.  The neighbor kids lined up outside my door with expectant faces, and my son became very popular, very quickly, but it didn't help me forget that I was specifically not writing today.  Every time I walked past one of my book shelves, my heart ached to delve into a story.  Every time I looked at my laptop, my brain wanted to jump out of my head and spill ideas out onto the keyboard.  A few times, I thought I was going to break down in tears.  To be blunt, it sucked.  It worked, though.  I think I've come up with an answer.

I write because I like it.

Wait, I know, I just said that.  But that's the beginning and end of it for me.  Publishing is great, and I'd count myself lucky to be one of the few that makes it into a similar bedroom-floor-pile of books.  But when I sit down and start a project, I have one aim in mind.  I'm telling these stories to one audience.  Me.  I want to be a better writer because I know I can work a little harder, push a little further, turn out a better story.  Maybe that's why self-publishing never appealed to me.  I'm out to prove to myself that I'm crafting great stories, and professional publication is my benchmark.  Deep down inside, though, it's all for me.

I'm still trying to figure out why Jane Austin's work survived so many generations to become an all-time fave with women around the world.  (Maybe when I figure this out, I'll understand why my husband groans whenever we see Pride and Prejudice on Oxygen.)  I'm still dissecting Howl's Moving Castle to figure out if the magic is just inside Calcifer, or if Diana Wynne Jones had some trick up her sleeve when she set out to write.  And I'm still trying to understand why I choose to tell the stories I do, but I think I'll save that for another post.

For now, I've got an angry muse to appease.


  1. I'm not sure there is a better answer to why we write than because we enjoy it. Honestly, with all the things we have to do in life, isn't a great to have something we want to do?

    Excellent Post, and if you do ever figure out why Jane Austen is so loved, please let me know. :)

  2. I think sometimes I write, because I don't have anything new to read, and I'm too lazy to get dressed and go to the library.

    Some days, that's a good enough reason to keep going.

    1. That sounds like a perfectly good reason to me. :)

  3. I justify my hoard of books to myself by saying things like, "It makes me a better writer." - Well, Said, it just inspires me to go for more. I buy books online, and more often that not, I am worried about the prices and how'll my hubby react to my book-hoarding habit. So I've still not dared to fill my book shelf. Hopefully, one day i'll earn enough to justify the money spent on books.


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