Why Writing

Toni McGee Causey wrote a punch of an entry over at Murderati today about why writing, and who writing is for. Warning: emotional wallop packed. Have tissues nearby.

[Thanks to SonomaLass for the link.]

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  1. 1
    amy lane says:

    Brilliant.  Truth at its most painful and eloquent.  Thank you.

  2. 2
    napthia9 says:

    Um, I was actually kind of squicked out by her bad thing being rape and his bad thing being economic/spouse’s sickness. Both very powerful situations and emotions, very well-written, but placing them side by side like that felt off to me. Like it was a comparison, only that’s obviously not what the writer intended to do. I dunno. Mixed feelings about that. I’m not sure if I’d feel the same if there was only one of the scenes, or if there were more than just these two scenes.

  3. 3

    I didn’t see them as being compared, just two different kinds of extremely painful, yet all too common situations.

    I was more bothered by the emotional manipulation of the concept. It’s the whole ‘Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten’ exaggeration. Write, or the rape victim won’t recover. Write, or the guy with the sick wife and no job won’t be able to struggle on. Or perhaps its ‘write, you weaklings. Don’t you know other people have it worse?’ Which is like, fucking useless as a motivation.

    Write because you have a story to tell. Pretending it makes you Mother Theresa is hubris. Not being able to write because you’re stressed and worried makes you normal, not selfish.

  4. 4

    So what would happen if the author who writes for these people and then discovers that actually, all her novels about virgin heroines make that particular rape victim feel worthless because she’s no longer a virgin, or the stories with HEAs make that soon-to-be widower feel even worse because they remind him of everything he’s about to lose? What about the authors who include rape and death in their novels? Should they stop writing those things in case it upsets someone?

    I think it’s quite possible for readers to seek out particular books for escape, reassurance etc but I’m not sure it’s a very good idea for authors to think of themselves as writing in order to provide this sort of thing to specific people in specific situations. It’s just too likely that they’ll then discover that, for at least one reader, their novel has had quite the opposite effect from the intended one. Would that make the novel a failure? Would it devastate the author to know their novel wasn’t universally effective as an emotional balm?

    Just as you can’t please all the readers all of the time, you can’t comfort all the readers all of the time.

  5. 5
    Caty M says:

    I’ve been there.  Not the rape or the spouse-with-cancer scenario, but times when I needed to escape to somewhere, anywhere, that wasn’t my present reality.  Unemployment and sudden bereavement have done it to me recently.  I’ve been very thankful for the ability and opportunity to escape for a couple of hours before coming back to deal with reality – despite the innocuous passages about jobs or work or family or wills that left me sobbing in a heap in the corner when I read them.

    Most readers aren’t in this kind of extreme situation, but a few are – and there are lots more who want to escape daily drudgery and other less dramatic things.  I don’t think you can write for a specific person or situation, and I don’t think you can assume that people will find what you write helpful.  Some might, many won’t.  But it is nice to be reminded that writers and books have the potential to make a difference to people’s lives.  It’s nice to be reminded that writing isn’t a purely selfish thing, and that writers can and do make a meaningful contribution to society.  It’s something I’m going to remember next time someone says to me, “you want to write novels?  Don’t you think you ought to concentrate on getting a proper job that contributes to society?”  Damn it, writing is important, and it does contribute to society.

  6. 6
    Silver James says:

    I read Causey’s blog the other day after Jordan Dane pointed it out on the OKRWA loop.

    It’s something I’m going to remember next time someone says to me, “you want to write novels?  Don’t you think you ought to concentrate on getting a proper job that contributes to society?” Damn it, writing is important, and it does contribute to society.

    Caty, this is exactly the point Causey was trying to make. I’m sorry for your troubles and hope life smooths out for you. You understand what writing is about.

    Those of us who write have stories to tell. Sometimes we write well enough that the story transcends the reality of the reader and takes them to a place where they can forget, or enjoy, or simple exist mindlessly. To put it bluntly, we offer an escape when Real Life sucks hind tit. Sometimes we can only offer up snark-worthy content and covers, but that serves as well.

    If you read today and it helps get you through a sad time or a tough time or…hell…simply a boring time, thank the writer. It’s because of each and every one of you that each and every one of us keeps writing, keeps telling stories, keeps dreams and hopes alive, keeps giving you a place to hide from the real world, if only for a page or two.

  7. 7

    It’s because of each and every one of you that each and every one of us keeps writing, keeps telling stories, keeps dreams and hopes alive, keeps giving you a place to hide from the real world, if only for a page or two.

    I’m really uncomfortable with this idea that writing exists primarily as a palliative for real life. Or that writers intend their work to act as such. I prefer my writing makes people think, not that it stops them thinking.

    I write because the voices in my head demand to be given expression. Because I can’t stop the ‘what iffing’. Because I love creating the kinds of characters and the kinds of stories I like to read. The impact on my readership, frankly, doesn’t enter into the equation at the point of creation. Sure, I love it if they love it. And being told I’ve made their day better or made them cry in a good way, is fantastic. But it’s not my motivation. If I stopped and thought about whether my writing would upset a rape victim or make a cancer victim better or worse, it would paralyse me.

    So please don’t speak for all writers. What drives you, works for you. You can only speak to that.

  8. 8
    Cat Marsters says:

    I prefer my writing makes people think, not that it stops them thinking.

    Why should escapism be about not thinking?  Thinking about something that’s not part of the real world is a wonderful way to escape whatever crapola you have to deal with.

    And I don’t think the article was about writing something that wouldn’t upset a rape victim.  I think it was about writing something that might cheer her up or give her strength.  It’s a noble goal.  And, plainly, its author wasn’t worrying about upsetting anyone; or she’d not have written something that’s caused so much contention between the people it was aimed at.

  9. 9
    Michele says:

    When I told my father I wanted to write romance, he urged me by saying: “The world needs happy endings.”

    And that’s what that blog made me think of. There’s nothing wrong with writing for yourself, to entertain, or to have fun. But at the same time, it can be a higher sort of calling when you reach people in such dire situations. I don’t think like that when I’m writing but in the back of my mind I hope that someday when I’m published, someone will pick up my book in a dire time and will find comfort while getting a much-needed respite. I have so many authors and moviemakers and musicans I’d love to thank for their work that was a comfort to me in my dire times. And the only way I can think of to thank them is to try and pass it on in some way some day by writing now and pursing publication.

  10. 10

    My son’s friend’s mother “Sarah” has become a friend of mine and she reads my books. When Sarah’s mother was dying of cancer, she read my books to her mother. Sarah told me how much it meant to her mother and how much it helped both of them through her final days. I cried over that. I’ve had housebound readers write me and tell me how much my books help them escape the incredible physical pain they live with. You never know what person in need you might touch and the power of stories and worlds to get lost in and forget the troubles and pains.

    I’ve wanted to be an author since kindergarten. I remember when I was in junior high, drinking in book after book, and thinking how much I wanted to write books that might give readers that same sense of escape and being taken to another world that I’d felt. I can even remember where I had that thought. I was standing by a bookcase in the junior high library a few rows from the library entrance. The book I’d just read was about earth’s survivors being forced to live below ground because of an apocalypse of some sort and I wanted to find another book like it. I’d enjoyed it so much and thought about how I’d gotten lost in the world and was able to forget the rough things I was going through in real life at that time.

    It doesn’t matter why an author writes—he or she has their own reasons. I think a while back one author on this list said it’s a business and she writes for the income. Others because they have stories that have to get out of their heads. So everyone has their own reasons and that’s all wonderful.

    But it’s a special thing when you do touch someone in a way that makes them feel better for at least a brief period in time. And sometimes a book stays with you, lingers long in your mind after you’ve finished reading it, and that’s something neat, too. The characters are as living and breathing for the reader as much as they are for the author who wrote the book. Sometimes more so. Look at J.R. Ward’s fan base and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s. Many of the readers feel like they know each character intimately and want to know even more about them.

    I feel like I’d know Harry Potter if he walked by and that I would know my way around Hogwarts. Talk about an escape! those books were so for me and the characters very much alive in my mind. I’d like to know more about their lives post-Hogwarts and they aren’t even real people!

    I think it was an admirable article and very well intentioned.

    My word is free41. Free the 41 characters from my head! Actually, free this next scene from my head since this book is due, uh, today.

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