Samuel Johnson once said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I have a copy of the quote stuck to my fridge precisely because of its delicious irony – by which I mean that anybody who writes only for the money could arguably be considered a blockhead. Especially for most indie authors, as for our trad-published midlist brethren before us, we’re lucky to make much of anything from our books.
So why write at all? The decision doesn’t compute in our current consumer-driven, profit-maximizing, pay-per-click culture. Why put yourself through all that agony if you’re not going to get any money out of it?
I think most indie authors have multiple answers to that question. For some, it’s the culmination of a dream; they have an overwhelming desire to hold in their hands a book with their name on the cover. For others, it’s validation that their writing strikes a chord with somebody they aren’t related to – because their families gave them either too much praise, or not enough. And some are motivated by the thrill of chasing the brass ring – the tantalizing possibility that they could be the next Amanda Hocking or John Locke, well-known and well-paid for their work.
Then, too, there are writers whose characters hound them until their story is told. And for still others, writing is as essential as breathing; they can’t conceive of living a life in which they didn’t write.
For me, at this point in my career, it’s not the thrill of being published. I have three novels and a nonfiction book with my name on the cover. And it’s not the promise of fame, either; thanks to my previous career in broadcasting, I have been nearly famous so many times that the bloom is off that particular rose for me. I’ve never been interested in making a fortune (although if I earned enough from my books to replace what I earn at my day job, I wouldn’t complain). And I’m past caring what people think of me, whether living or dead.
I have, in the past, had characters annoy me until I wrote about them. And I certainly feel more alive when I am writing regularly. But there’s more to it. When I write, I’m seeking the “writer’s high”: that zen-like state when you feel that you’re simply a conduit for the story.
Interesting things can happen when you’re in that zone. One day, in the midst of the first draft of “SwanSong,” I got on a roll. Things were just clicking. It was great!
And then I stopped dead and said to myself, “Whoa.” Because I realized that I had just tapped into something surprisingly deep. I had pulled a personal truth from my subconscious by writing from my main character’s point of view.
Luckily, it worked for her, and so I left it in.
But: the writer’s high, and the discoveries that sometimes come along with it, are the real reasons why I write.
(Thanks to K.D. Lang, whose post at Indies Unlimited gave me the idea for this piece.)
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