This started out as a snark, as many of my best ideas do. And like all of my snarks, (thank you, Universe, for making me an Aries) it’s often gone as quickly as it began. It did, however, blossom into an interesting conversation with whole lot of cool and thoughtful people, so yay!
It all got started with me taking umbrage at this article: Why I Write: George Orwell’s Four Universal Motives of Writing and Creative Work. Particularly this bit: “Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/06...
That bit irked me. Not just because I didn’t think it was at all reflective of why I, personally write, but because he claimed to speak for me – for all writers.
Faulkner got properly poetic for his Nobel prize acceptance speech and wrote, “The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is … to help man endure by lifting his heart.” That’s grand, but is it any truer for all of us than Orwell’s words?
So, I asked. I put the question to some real, working writers, and this is what they told me.
Why does a writer write? Why do you write?
Madeline: “My motivation to write is to live in a world I cannot otherwise live in without my imagination and the words I put to it. When I write out a character I want to feel what that character is feeling. I want to put words to every little thought, taste, touch, and desire that runs through their minds. I want to psychoanalyze the intangible ideas that bubble up in my own mind and give them life. It might be selfish... but I would do it regardless of anyone reading anything I do.”
Nicole: “I write because it's my outlet for all that is inside my head. There's a lot!”
Ginny: “The number one reason I write is because I HAVE to. It's like breathing. If I didn't write, my soul would die.”
Sophia: “…there's no doubt that the sharing is at least in part, if not mostly, driven by egocentric reasons and not altruistic reasons. When you publish a book, it's not because you think the world needs that book (even though we tell ourselves this because it's more acceptable to say). Looking for someone to read your words is, in essence, seeking out the immortality of remembrance. You want to make a mark on the world, no matter what size that mark is. It's no sin, and in fact is a sort of grace, but it's definitely egoism.”
Ellie: “Maybe I’ll just start spouting the truth around here.”
So many different reasons. Truth, passion, civic-mindedness, I’m good at it, they pay me, it’s fun, to become immortal, people need to hear this story, I need to tell this story… all of these are really interesting and spectacular reasons, but to go back to Orwell, does any of that really address the question of ego? How much ego is involved? Is it about the artist? Is it about the art? That sparked some more fascinating thoughts…
Cather wrote, in Song of the Lark “…what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould in which to imprison for a moment, the shining, elusive element which is life itself?”
Sophia: I don't really believe in things that originate wholly from outside the self. To me, each human is a self-contained, independent unit, and even those things that are a combination of external ideas and thoughts and inputs are still, ultimately, sieved through the filter of our self. When I create something, the only thing I am channeling is my self, from inside to out.
I asked the question: If you had to fill in pie chart with RED being - the importance of the artist, relative to BLUE - the importance of the art...what would your chart look like?
Jonna: “Sometimes where it comes from (me, the artist) and sometimes the result (the art) is more important. Generally, though, both are crucial.”
Colin: "L'art pour l'art."- Theophile Gautier
Lori: “It would be red, blue, red, blue, red, blue and purple because everything is usually mashed together.”
Chris: “After spending more and more time thinking about and talking about visual art and visual art history over the last couple years, I'd say the pie chart would be interactive and constantly changing, depending on what the art is, and on who was looking at the art and when.”
Nicole: “…because the story/art comes from the artist. So there would be a bit more red but maybe with some purple swirls since the story/art comes from the artist...”
So what I’m getting here, from these various folks, is that the motivation to create art, and the end goal for creating it, are positioned on a very long continuum. To write from a strong sense of self (this is my legacy), all the way to writing from a strong sense of the emptiness of self (I am merely the vessel for the art to flow through). And from a strong sense of need (you all need to read this) to an equally strong sense of need (I need to write this).
I, as I am wont to do, seek the balance in this, the compromise. I suspect that no two artists in the universe would fall at precisely the same points on these two lines, nor would any two artist’s lines intersect at the same, given point. I suspect also, that the readers, the audience for such art, that those people would be scattered on those lines in a like fashion.
And the magic must then be in the connection.
Amazon, Goodreads, our reading friends and our local librarians act as the keepers of the algorithm, viewing all the points on all the lines, attempting to connect the dots, draw the pictures that make sense of the universe, and put together the right readers with the right stories.
And then there’s me. For me, the writing is because it makes me happy, and because I like the idea of connecting, not to everybody, but maybe to a few people. I throw it out there, online, in print, for public consumption, not because I think my voice is the voice for everyone, but because I think my voice might be the one for someone, and I think that someone might possibly want or maybe need to hear my voice speaking to them.
I don’t even really think of it in terms of my stories being in people’s hands, or on people’s bookshelves, I think of them as being out there, in the universe. I think stories transcend paper and eBooks and audios, I think stories are part of the universe, part of the connectivity that is the human experience here and now.
In my mind I’m sitting around a fire outside a cave, with stinking furs to keep me warm, and maybe an amenable wolf by my side, sleeping off her latest hunt, and I am telling stories to my pack; knowing they won’t reach every heart, understanding they won’t explain every mystery, not really even caring that they won’t keep all of my listeners awake, but perhaps foolishly hoping for at least one. One connection.
One line from this star to that star, that will make somebody’s night sky feel a little more comfortable, safe, warm, and understood.