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Why write?

Got a question/comment about the business of writing or about the publishing industry? Here's your place to post it!
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Justin Swanton
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Why write?

Post by Justin Swanton » Tue February 14th, 2012, 1:34 pm

It seems a dumb question, but there's a point behind it.

Writing is a form of communication, like talking, phoning, or emailing:

Communication - from two Latin root words: cum + uni 'be one with'. One mind sharing its thoughts with another such that the two end up with common ideas - at least to some extent.

This is clear enough with ordinary forms of communication, such as talking. But to what extent does a writer think he is communicating when he sets about writing a book? The act of writing is solitary: the writer plunges into a fantasy world (based to a greater or lesser extent on fact) and creates a story from it. When the story is finished how many writers' interest in it go beyond a) financial rewards, and b) fame?

The question is important, because for a) and b) to kick in, a lot of people have to like the book enough to buy it, which means that most writers with this mindset are going to be disappointed.

The average fictional writer who has put his heart and effort into his book can expect - what? - a few hundred people, a couple of thousand at the most, to read it. Will he be satisfied with that? If he sees writing as a form of communication, telling others something important, then perhaps he will, even if only a few dozen pay attention.

How do other writers here view the purpose of their craft?
Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus.

Author of Centurion's Daughter

Come visit my blog

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Margaret
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Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
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Post by Margaret » Sun February 19th, 2012, 12:21 am

Not a dumb question at all! Writers write from a complex tangle of motivations, I think. Most do want other people to read their work, so the traditional sort of communication is involved. But one of the things that happens when I write is that I learn more about my own thoughts and feelings, many of them subconscious and more accessible through the metaphorical process of crafting characters and scenes than through rational analysis. It's a sort of communication between different parts of the self. Some writers actually aren't interested in publishing, and I suppose they write for this reason.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Mon February 20th, 2012, 12:55 am

I write because I am a writer. I can't not write. Money would be nice, not sure about fame. But I will write whether I ever make a fortune or not, whether I am ever recognized by the public or not. It seems to be in my blood, like music is.

While I do share my work with others, and always will do so, my writing isn't about communication as much as it is about expression.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon February 20th, 2012, 2:05 am

I write for those who read my work. Its a small circle, right now, and I'm content with that while I polish, polish, polish. But I do have an ever-widening circle of test readers, and at this point, thanks to things going from hand to hand, I have more readers I don't know than ones I do. The problem is, every time I improve, I wish I could somehow yank all the earlier stuff back and make it better.

Anyway, its work I like, and now I have the time. So why not write?

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Justin Swanton
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Post by Justin Swanton » Wed February 22nd, 2012, 8:09 pm

Interesting and impressive answers.

When I write I enjoy watching a world and its characters develop - especially the characters who sometimes do things I would not expect. To finish a book and know that within its genre's limitations it is as good as it can be and (dare I say it) good, gives me real satisfaction.

It's the same with my illustration and design work - doing a business card layout that is professional and effective is enjoyable even though I know anyone else will glance at it for only half a second to get a name and phone number.
Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus.

Author of Centurion's Daughter

Come visit my blog

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Thu February 23rd, 2012, 1:08 am

There is a dividing line, in my mind, between having been a writer of sorts all my life - and finally becoming an *author*.

Some years ago, my brother invited me to join him for the James River Writers annual Conference, and I said yes. We'd both always harbored sort of minor dreams about being writers, but the good fortune was that we're both also not "joiners" and kind of needed each other to go with in order to participate in something that made us feel sort of vulnerable. I never counted on how important this Conference would be for me (and I have been a faithful JRW member since they began memberships).

The education and the INSPIRATION of this community transformed what had always been a formless idea into the directed, educated, and confident motivation which pretty quickly became the beginnings of "The Ax and the Vase".

The man I love and I have often talked about creative people who say they are something, but never truly produce anything professionally (and there is precisely nothing wrong with that), and the people who dedicate themselves to some form of professional product to be recognized publicly in one way or another. Because E is a graphic artist, we ended up coming up with the phrase "I'ma 'Nartist" (sincerely not intended as derogatorily as that may sound) for those who fill sketchbooks and party chatter, but never push themselves nor feel the need perhaps to reach the specific goals of publishing a graphic novel or what have you.

I was quite happily a 'nartist all my life. But once I actually learned something about how to publish, I decided that I *wanted* to do so - and have worked at it with passion and professionalism ever since. I don't care about being King or Rowling, and would be sorry if I did. I don't care about rights options. I do care very much about making my work good enough to get it repped by the man whose positive response to me so far has been about as gratifying as any creative accomplishment I've ever managed. I care that this will be sold in Europe, too. I care that it should sell well enough to make me a going concern as an author - though I don't fantasize about wild wealth in royalties, nor even quitting my (excellent) day job. I care about being well repped, per the note above.

Above - and beneath - it all, I care about my story. Without Clovis, I never could have gone anywhere, and I'm as grateful to have found a subject (well - or three!) as to have found JRW.

But without my pragmatic and mercenary expectations and motivations - I would still just sort of "think" I was a writer.

I wrote a book. I'm an author. Even if I died tomorrow, unpublished and in my grave - I accomplished something real. I produced the book. Now I want to do it the service of seeing it read.
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

***

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The Czar
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Post by The Czar » Thu February 23rd, 2012, 2:09 am

I'm arrogant/deluded enough to think that it means maybe, long after I'm dead, someone else will still appreciate what I had to say.

I know that probably won't happen, but...
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
_______________________________________________
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

T.D.McKinnon
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Post by T.D.McKinnon » Thu February 23rd, 2012, 11:20 am

[quote=""Justin Swanton""]It seems a dumb question, but there's a point behind it.

Writing is a form of communication, like talking, phoning, or emailing:

Communication - from two Latin root words: cum + uni 'be one with'. One mind sharing its thoughts with another such that the two end up with common ideas - at least to some extent.

This is clear enough with ordinary forms of communication, such as talking. But to what extent does a writer think he is communicating when he sets about writing a book? The act of writing is solitary: the writer plunges into a fantasy world (based to a greater or lesser extent on fact) and creates a story from it. When the story is finished how many writers' interest in it go beyond a) financial rewards, and b) fame?

The question is important, because for a) and b) to kick in, a lot of people have to like the book enough to buy it, which means that most writers with this mindset are going to be disappointed.

The average fictional writer who has put his heart and effort into his book can expect - what? - a few hundred people, a couple of thousand at the most, to read it. Will he be satisfied with that? If he sees writing as a form of communication, telling others something important, then perhaps he will, even if only a few dozen pay attention.

How do other writers here view the purpose of their craft?[/quote]
Hello Justin,

When I was very young, about seven years old, living in a coalmining community in England after having moved from a coalmining community in Scotland, I won a writing competition at school. I suppose my story wasn’t much more than the scrawling you might expect from a junior school student; however with it I had pride of place at the school Open Day that year. I can remember a teacher commenting, “I believe we have a budding author in our midst.” I believe that that comment changed the way I saw myself and the rest of the world. From that moment on, throughout my life, I considered myself a writer.

I have to point out here that my life took on a varied and different course and, for the most part, I certainly haven’t made my living as a writer; yet I have always considered myself a writer and I have always, in one way or another, written and enjoyed the act of writing for itself.

Which brings me back to your question: “why write?” I believe that everyone who read your thread and decided to get involved has part of the answer. However, I think it can be summed up simply: writers write!

T.D. McKinnon

Harold Titus
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Post by Harold Titus » Fri March 2nd, 2012, 2:54 am

#2 Well said.
Whether it is a letter to the editor of a newspaper or a 400 page novel, I write because I feel the need to. It clarifies my thinking and engages my emotions. I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself. I know more about myself after I have finished. Yes, it is frustrating to see the novel that I have written being almost entirely ignored. I am happy to know that my family members and relatives have my novel to feel good about, that they may be able to see a side of me not previously evident. The money and fame would be nice, but that is not why I write.

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Justin Swanton
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Post by Justin Swanton » Sun March 4th, 2012, 6:58 pm

These answers prompt another question: do the worlds writers create express, to a certain extent subconsciously, their understanding of the real world? In other words, let the plot and characters flow out, and in the end you will see what is really important to you, which is worthwhile even if no-one else reads the book.
Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus.

Author of Centurion's Daughter

Come visit my blog

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