Friday, 27 May 2011

Why I write

In recent days, I’ve been going through what can be called, most accurately, a crisis of faith.

No, don’t get me wrong on that. I don’t mean I’m getting all religious. Not unless what I’m going to talk about is religion.

Regular readers of my earlier blogs will be aware that I’ve been somewhat...unsettled of late. In my defence I’ll say that I’ve been through a significant amount of emotional turmoil, but I think I’ve pulled out of that flat spin, even if it did require shifting home a good bit. But that alone isn’t the thing.

See here, I am primarily a writer. By that I don’t mean that I’m a writer by profession; as I shall explain in a moment, I have never earned a single royalty cheque in all my years pounding away, first at a typewriter, and then at a computer keyboard (and I’m a self-taught typist who still has to look down at the keys while he’s typing). So, yes, writing for me is probably more of a physical effort than it is for a good many other people. But that’s not what I’m going on about here.

In recent times, quite frankly, I’ve been questioning the entire raison d’être of my writing. I’ve sacrificed a hell of a lot for this, I can tell you quite factually without either whining or being boastful. I have no social life whatsoever. I spend all – quite literally all – of my spare time either reading, or writing, and over time I’ve even begun cutting down on the former in favour of the latter. And what have I actually got out of it, so far?

If I were Yiddish, I’d have the perfect answer: bupkes.

And this is the crisis of faith: my faith in myself.

Once upon a time I used to believe I could make a living writing; that there were publishers just waiting to publish good writing. Because I was naive enough to believe they’d recognise good writing when they saw it, you know? Gah! How stupid could I be? But it was this mistaken belief that drove me on during the year and a bit I took to write my first novel, Rainbow’s End, and it wasn’t until I tried to get it published that I learnt the horrible truth. I’m glad, looking back, that I wasn’t disillusioned early, or I’d never have written another word.

Or, maybe, glad might not be the bon mot.

I’ve frequently wanted to stop writing. I have actually downed fingers on more than one occasion and decided to quit. I couldn’t; any dedicated writer knows the feeling, as of a devil sitting whipping away on one’s back. In recent days, especially, ever since my last novel (Fidayeen, and it’s a good novel, though I do say so) was repeatedly rejected by publishers without even a pretence at a proper consideration, I’ve asked myself again and again whether it’s worth going on.

After all, what have I got out of this? If I don’t write, I feel depressed and anxious, it's true. But if I do write, it’s almost always a hard grind, especially when it’s fiction; the essays usually are easier but the essays aren’t what I really write for, if you know what I’m talking about. Once I finish writing and post the thing, I usually have a few minutes to a few hours of mental satisfaction before I have the same old devil flogging my back, not just to write, but to write better than last time.

In fact, this thing was getting to be a physical, psychological and even a financial drain on me; and I don’t think there will ever be a time when I can break even, financially speaking, so far as writing goes, and goodbye to all those dreams of someday becoming a professional writer. Even though I am in a situation where with a little luck I should, in a few months, acquire a quarterly royalty cheque, I don’t believe it will come close to compensating me for the effort I put into it.

But there are more important things than money, and the most important things, it seems to me now, are the most intangible.

Yesterday, I was on Fakebook and I came across a former fellow student from medical college who’s now a big-shot in a hospital somewhere in the US. He's always in green surgical scrubs and – from the comments – getting a lot of fame, fortune and adulation for his efforts. Well, all the more power to him, but looking at his exhausted, raddled face, and remembering what he was like back then, I wouldn’t have his life for all the fame and fortune he has. No.

Today, he operates on a specimen, and tomorrow, there's another. And in the end, they all go away, grow old, and die. As he will grow old, retire, and die; and, meanwhile, the flow of specimens will go on.

That, ultimately, put the whole thing in perspective for me. I am not famous, or rich, and I will never be famous or rich. I haven’t left my name on the pages of history, and I never will leave my name on the pages of history (and going by those who do leave their names on those pages, I’m happy not to be among their number). But I can leave something that survives me, and if my writing survives me, then I’ll have done something to justify my existence.

And that is why – despite it all – I continue to write.


  1. Bill, that last paragraph is really the heart of the matter - those of us who create art (whether it's written, musical, or painted/sculpted) do so for an audience.

    We do so that something of us might survive.

    Please know this - you've touched my life in ways both unexpected and appreciated. For that, I thank you.

    There are others.

    Count on it....

  2. Nice One this a justification.?..or simply an introspection????...

  3. No amoeba, no worm, no elephant needs to justify it's existence, so why should you?

    A painter has to paint, a writer has to write, a runner has to run, it's what they CAN do and they are so full of it, it's streaming out of them and beyond their trivial life. It makes their life intense and rich, that's why they can't stop.

    Being appreciated by the world or being payed for your creations is not part of this deal. You have the talent to write, but not necessarily the talent to sell your stuff. Think of all the artists who died poor and unheeded, whose creations now cost vast sums of money, you'll find yourself in good company then.

  4. keep doing what you do, bro... it seems next to impossible to get the recognition we need, but having a few folk acknowledge our efforts makes the struggles worthwhile, if not financially rewarding...

    much of what brings in big $$$ is because some kind of game has been learned, somehow...

    i have many writer/artist/photog pals here, not one is making a lot of money form their art....

  5. And this is your correct choice!
    Well done!

  6. Almost, sort of answered my question, Bill...



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