Finally in this series of questions people ask about writing, and probably the most popular question asked by people who don’t write, is: ‘Why do you write?’ This is usually asked in an inquisitive tone, although some people really mean: ‘Why do you bother?’
A couple of years ago daytime television – which I rarely watch as I work during the day – ran a series of short programmes about writers and what their lives are like. During one of them someone described getting a novel published as less likely, odds wise, than winning the lottery.
I’m quite vocal about my love of writing and many people mentioned this programme to me. They asked me why I bother spending so much time thinking about writing, and why a lot my chit-chat is around my stories. They also quizzed me about whether or not I was published, and if I hoped to be in the future.
When I said that I was hopeful, and that I had spent a lot of time improving my writing and going on writing courses, as well as reading, the response was usually: ‘But when you’ve finished writing the novel, isn’t it just luck?’
I’ve wondered about this. I don’t think it is just luck. In fact, I would say that a tiny element of it is luck – anything that is eventually out of your control, that is, done in conjunction with someone else, depends on an element of right place, right time. But mostly it’s dedication and perseverance. It’s about listening to the ever-changing publishing world and writing something that hopefully will fit and be written well enough to get the attention of an agent or publisher.
It is very competitive. Lots of people are writing novels and submitting them to agents and publishers. Some agents receive hundreds of partial manuscripts a week and only request a few full manuscripts. There will always be people who have a better platform than you and sometimes this will feel unfair. But if you carry on writing and keep trying you will eventually receive some feedback.
This feedback may make you try even harder, or change direction. It may even make you take a break, or see where there is a gap in your writing skills and enrol on a course. It might make you feel like giving up. But you probably won’t. I didn’t. Following the elongated form of the question above, ‘Why do you write if there is little chance of publication’, the simple answer struck me. ‘I write because I like writing. I write because I can’t not write.’
Of course I would like to write a bestseller, and for my dream agent to represent me in its sale. Every time I write, I’m writing both for myself and for other people. I would love as many people as possible to read my novel, and for it to entertain them. If that never happens, I’ll still write and still share my work with my peers and it will still have been worth the effort. While I am still writing, there is still hope.
I’ve had times when I have thought that I wouldn’t write any more, that me and writing were ‘on a break’, that I would find something else to fill my time. But I don’t think I ever will. I’m always tempted back with 2am ideas, characters that whisper to me and the pleasure of that first chapter, and the possibilities it holds. That’s why I write. Because I love writing. I can take or leave the paraphernalia of writing, and of course I would love to have fiction published. But for the time being I’ll just carry on and on and on. And on.