I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I’m gentle with myself about goal-setting. I’ve never had a prescribed daily word count, and I’m not starting now. I may not accomplish as much as other writers, but I’ve reached the stage of life where I avoid all avoidable stress. Been there, done that, paid the price. For the most part, I’m all about the Zen these days. But I do have writing plans for 2016, even if they’re quite flexible.
Mainly, I plan to keep writing. But why?
After publishing five books, I’m not sure why I’m asking myself that question now. Shouldn’t I have sorted that out years ago? Maybe, but sometimes it takes the perspective of time to reach the truth.
Unlike many writers, I haven’t always written. I haven’t even always wanted to write. I came late to the game after a lifetime as a dedicated reader. I’ve heard other writers say they have voices in their heads, demanding their stories be written. I don’t. My characters don’t tell their own stories, with me serving merely as scribe. While I love the creative process of crafting characters and plots and the emotional rush of letting my imagination run free, I’m not driven to do it. So why put in all the time and effort required to write an entire book?
I’ve thought about it and have come to the undeniable conclusion that one of the reasons I write is for validation. It’s embarrassing, but since we’re being truthful here, I might as well face facts. I’m sixty-one years old and quite comfortable in my own skin. I shouldn’t need or want the validation of others—and generally I don’t—but there’s something different about writing.
I don’t write deep, heavy, soul-searching stuff. I write to entertain myself and others, to brighten readers’ days and lighten their loads. But even when we aren’t flaying ourselves open on paper, we writers spill our guts in more subtle ways. What could be more intimate than sharing your fantasies with strangers? And what is more satisfying than knowing someone else “gets” you—laughs at what you find funny and sighs at your romantic flights of fancy?
Do you remember Sally Field’s acceptance speech when she won the Oscar? She gushed, “You like me. You really like me,” and people made fun of her. I didn’t understand at the time, but I understand now. She put her creative product out in the world and needed validation. I feel that way about reviews. Some writers say they never read their reviews. I couldn’t do that. I need feedback from readers. I don’t need to be told I’m a good writer; that’s a skill I’ve worked on and continue to improve. I need to hear that someone understood and enjoyed my view of the world. I think we all need that. It’s like a hug that says, “You’re not alone.”
Beautiful post, Alison. I think we all want to know that someone, somewhere hears what we say and really listens. Hugs are good. Here's mine. ;-)
Great message, Alison. I always felt bad for Sally Field after that speech. Like you, I didn't quite get it until I started putting my own stories out there. Sharing their world views is what writers do, regardless of the message, and it can be pretty lonely! Writing fun, light-hearted stories is a wonderful gift for readers. :-)
Wonderfully said, Alison, and I'm back here with my arm waving saying, "Me, too! Me, too!"
Writing is a lot of work. You have to love it to do it, even though at times you're hating your story. I love the creative process, especially when I laugh like an idiot as I write a scene. Validation, oh yes!! I need that. I'd certainly like to leave the stress of deadlines and promotion behind.
You smacked that nail, Alison, head on! Not only do I need validation, believing that my stories are good enough for readers to bury themselves in for a time, but I am a person who needs purpose. Like you, I don't hear characters in my head...they develop as I sit at the computer, which I find quite magical. I like the tangible evidence that I made a mark, however small, on this planet. Yes, I have thousands of students I taught and led (as a principal), but books could/should last forever.
As a Virgo, I totally get where you're coming from. We write for different reasons but in the end, I'm seeking that validation too. I totally understood Sally and understand you. Personally, I wish I could say I don't give a rat's a-- what anyone thinks of me. And I do to a certain degree...I've pretty much been a little "different" all my life. But in spite of that, yes, like me please. And be entertained by what I write. Nice post, Alison.
Your books are great, and I'm willing to bet, uplift the spirits of everyone who reads them! What better justification for writing is there? Terrific post!
Wow, I obviously struck a nerve here, and I'm so glad! I've never felt alone as a writer because of friends like you, but I think the universal need to feel understood may be stronger in writers than in others. It's not that we're needier, but by putting ourselves out there we have more at risk.
I think I straddle two zones here: I need validation so, for instance, I couldn't self-publish, I needed someone to say I was good enough to publish. But I do hear the characters in my head--not always, but generally. Now having said that, I'm working on a book to join a self-published anthology. The thing is, someone ASKED me to join, so that was validation, and then the story came to me...
Andi, I only turned to self-publishing after 3 traditionally-published books. I thought I might like it, and I do. I hope your anthology experience is a good one!
Great post and great insight. I, too, am not putting myself on a daily word count or timetable this year. If I miss a self-imposed goal, I'm re-adjusting the time schedule to meet it!
Lovely post. I think we all need some validation.:) I also write because I love to.
As the others have said, great post. I totally get where you're coming from. Validation is wonderful. I am one of those weirdos who doesn't even mind the validation of a negative review, as long as it's honest (it still means someone read my stuff, right? :)). By honest, I mean, I recently had a review where the person trashed my plotting book saying it was riddled with errors and grammatical issues, etc, and they can't imagine why anyone would hire me as an editor. I went back through it thoroughly and found one typo. :/ Like you, I do not hear characters in my head who tell me their stories (I envy the authors who do. That sounds much easier than my method. In my process, I have to do all the work :)). I am, however, compelled to write and ideas do hammer me frequently. I am one of those authors who has wanted to write since I was a child. Yes, your post definitely struck a chord. Thanks for sharing!
Judy, if we're not kind to ourselves it sucks a lot of the fun out of writing.
Enjoyed your post, and as everyone else has already said what I was thinking (isn't that great?!!), I'll just mention that I appreciate your honesty and insight.
Angelina, I can't imagine writing because I had to. I hate to think what the outcome would be.
Alicia, I read your plotting book and have no idea what that reviewer was talking about. Maybe s/he objected to the conversational tone. I thought that made it feel more like a one-on-one tutorial. I also have to do all the work when I write. That's probably why I'm not more productive - pure laziness.
Beautifully said, Alison. Validation is important. As a writer, I already love my book, so to hear that another person likes/loves my story...yep, I've done my job as a bard.
That's what it's all about, Mary.
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