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For Whom Do We Write and Why and How?

Writing’s paradoxical. Write for yourself. But have the reader in mind. But write for the sake of writing. But make sure it’s good enough to be read and (hopefully) published. Of course, that’s creative, fictitious writing. What about blogging? Blogging is extra egotistic. You can say whatever you want, about whatever you want and publish it by yourself as easily, and as quickly, as you can click a button. And then you actually expect people to read what you’ve written. People you’ve never met, who know nothing about you and have no reason to care about what you have to say. People who really have no business caring about whatever problems you’re either making light of or melodramatizing for their reading pleasure.

Blogging is probably, for me, the ultimate combination of writing for others and yourself at the same time, from the moment your fingertips touch the keyboard. On the one hand, it’s very much a thing of vanity, in the same way self-publishing is often referred to as  vanity publishing. You do it so you can say (and/or feel), hey look, there are people who read what I write — don’t I feel special for having readers? Aren’t I such a great writer? I’m published, on the internet, for the whole world to read! But, while it is very self-centred in one sense, you also tend to be be very aware of the fact that people will read what you’re writing — and very soon. You’ll “publish” it as soon as it’s “perfect” or sometimes just “good enough” and people will read it (if they do at all) somewhat immediately. It doesn’t have to go through any third parties. No one has to validate what you’ve written. No one censors it. No one even looks it over for spelling errors. This sounds pretty powerful, but in itself, it isn’t. Because you need readers. Readers are what makes it powerful. Without readers, you’re just some loser, sitting at a keyboard. Writing for yourself.


But what about “real” writing? Fiction writing? Fiction that you don’t plan on self-publishing online? Who do you write it for? For yourself? Or for your readers? Who knows if you’ll ever even have readers? Who knows if it will ever even be published? And if it is published, so what? What then? Will it last? If it’s in a magazine, will it ever be read more than once, before the magazine is tossed to the side to make way for the next issue? If it’s a book, will it sell? Will it survive? Or will it shortly (or even not so shortly) go out of print — which to me sounds like the most horrible, tragic thing imaginable.

And what matters, anyways? Success when a book is published, during the author’s lifetime? Or a book that doesn’t go out of print for years and years, even after the author has died, but didn’t have much acclaim while the author was living? Of course, I’m thinking of literary fiction here. In principle, I think that’s all that really counts. That’s all I think is worthy of a writer’s time. I know this probably sounds very snobby, and I’m probably stepping on a few feet (something I tend to accidentally do literally). But I stand by that. Because, while I’m on this whole, existential, why do we write, “to be or not to be” style rant, I may as well throw the literary vs. “mainstream” fiction debate into the mix. I mean, yes, sure, people who write bestsellers must enjoy their vanity-filled, money-making fifteen minutes of fame. But then what? What happens when those fifteen minutes (or in some cases fifteen years) of fame end? Some may argue that those few authors are pretty damn happy, sipping champagne from the top of their piles of money. “Who cares that they’ll be forgotten?” some people say. Well I think, that if they’re real, introspective, insightful writers, then they should care. What about leaving a legacy? Don’t people care to change to world? To leave something behind? To touch other’s lives for longer than the time it takes them to get from the front cover to the back?

I probably sound like a bit of a naïve, idealistic teenager. But I know this, which tends to get in the way of that wonderful, youthful idealism. In fact, this idealism takes a hit from reality quite often. And, perhaps because of the way I cleave to this idealism, reality tends to come at me like a slap in the face and leave me sore for days. I sit up on my (very) high horse, criticizing authors like E. L. James (the woman gave the world the pleasure of Fifty Shades of Grey), whose work I would never condescend to read, and yet I often wonder who am I to criticize? At least this E. L. James woman has taken pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and had enough discipline to sit down and get out enough words to fill three entire “novels” (if they’re even deserving of that title). And yet, here I am, criticizing myself for criticizing her, and I can’t even do that without poking fun at her and her books.

I’ve been focussing my writing energies on blogging lately and with less feeling I should be doing it and more just doing it. But then I feel as though blogging isn’t real writing. I feel as though it “doesn’t count”. Because, after all, who’s going to read my blog a hundred years from now? Is there even anyone who’s still reading my posts from a month ago? The awesome, brilliant posts that I put so much love and effort into and care about with all my heart and soul?

And so, with this slightly pressing upon the back of my mind, and feeling a little unsettled that I haven’t written any fiction in the past few weeks, I opened up a notebook, hoping to try out a writing prompt. When I opened the notebook, I found a little sketch I had been working on recently, but abandoned (or got distracted from) after about a page and a half. It was a great idea. Very meta-fictitious. Very satirical. Very awesome. So I started adding to it. Tried to move it forward. But I couldn’t. Because I started thinking too much. What was I going to do with it? Who was going to read it? Could I really make it good enough for people to actually get it? For people to actually enjoy? Could I really pull it off?

Cartoon credit:

My problem, and I assume it’s a very common problem and why there aren’t even more people who have written books, is that once the initial excitement wears off, after the moment of inspiration passes, I get tired of it. I can’t seem to keep going. I get bored of what I’m working on. No, bored probably isn’t the right word. What I get is stressed. I do this thing where I forget how to breathe. I forget how to keep my butt where it is and keep going. I imagine that I’ve forgotten how to write. Because, instead of focussing on writing, I’m focussing on editing the only three words I have until perfection. I’m focussing on what’s going to become of what I’m writing once it’s written. I’m focussing on how certain people may perceive the sentence I’m about to write, but haven’t even gotten onto the page yet.

Writing is a paradox. You need the idealism. You need the inspiration. But you need to be realistic. You need to be persistent. You need to sit down and (very unromantically) get some words onto the page. You have to sit for hours. Sometimes you have to avoid people. And stay away from the internet. But, funnily enough, I think the idealism, the naiveté, the total abandon is most important while you’re unromantically plowing through pages, cranking out some words, trudging through the first draft. It isn’t how you’d idealize the writer’s life, but it’s what needs the most idealism. That’s when you have to stop caring what will happen to it and just write. Write for yourself, write thinking of the best possible fate for your darling brainchild or write thinking nothing at all.

Then rationality and reality can probably return when you edit. Then you can set the inner critic loose and think about what’s going to become of it. All the hoops you’ll have to jump through. All the revisions you’ll have to make to your precious baby. But by then, you’ll have something. And you’ll be proud of it. And (after some time has elapsed and you can look at it realistically again and not as a peace of perfection that’s just emerged from your brilliant brain) you’ll be able to make changes. I’ve seen copies of (and original) manuscripts from classic, brilliant authors and they’re all the same. The rough drafts all crossed out and rewritten and scribbled over so much, you can scarcely see the original text. I imagine very little of what we read was written the same (or even included at all) in the first draft. And yet, there was once a first draft. Even writers whose work is being read years after they died started as a terrible, awful rough draft. And those masterpieces couldn’t have been edited and become what they are now without those original drafts, because without those drafts, there would have been nothing to edit.

Of course, realizing and writing all that was the easy part — now all I have to do is internalize it and try to take some of my own advice. What about you? Do you have any sage wisdom to share? Why do you write? Who do you write for? How do you get through those first drafts? And, most importantly, do you think blogging counts?


Building a Work of Art

My grandfather is one of the partners in a big land development company and he takes great pride in showing us his projects. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the day with him, visiting his company’s various construction sites. At the end of the day, I was surprised to discover how much I had learned about writing. Today, in honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to dedicate this post  to him, and share some of the things I learned.

To me, the realms of reading and writing — my interests — and of construction and land development — his interests — had previously seemed quite mutually exclusive. This notion of their disparity had been heightened by my grandfather’s interest in the numbers and financial aspects of building. Numbers and such tend to elude me, so while I love spending time with him, I tend not to understand about half of what he’s saying.

But it now occurs to me, perhaps our interests are not as disconnected as I previously imagined. Because, what is constructing a building if not making something that wasn’t there before? And isn’t that the same thing as writing, but merely in another medium? If so, then there is so much that I, and any other writer out there, can learn from this man who has been in the business of creating for the past fifty or sixty years.

Whenever we go on these outings, my favourite parts of the day are seeing the finished products. The high rise condos, already built up to the penthouse and their stunning, fully decorated lobbies. Even just the sales centres delight me, with their high tech demonstrations and beautifully coordinated decor. However, my grandfather always drags me to see big gaping holes in the ground, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over the contraptions put in place and techniques used to dig out the dirt.

Image from because my iPhone makes my grandfather nervous, so I didn’t take any pictures.

On last week’s trip, he explained to me that this is what he’s interested in, the progress and process you can see and look at from a bird’s eye view. Once the building starts really making headway, and gets (literally) off the ground, you can’t really see what they’re doing on the inside and for him it becomes boring. The same goes for the finished buildings. Once they are completed, furnished and sold, he loses interest.

This can be seen as metaphoric for the writing process. Just like I prefer looking at the finished, fully decorated buildings, I also prefer looking over my finished, fully developed writing projects, rather than taking greatest joy in the writing itself. I prefer editing later, more complete drafts over writing the first.  My grandfather on the other hand, would be someone who sees the value in writing the first draft. Like the digging stages, it takes the most time, but nothing can happen until it’s done. And that draft is often most difficult — or at least it seems that way when you’re at the stage — but it’s in that draft where everything begins to happen, and everything else you do for that projects tends to stem from that draft.

I think that this is an incredibly valuable lesson. This was very relevant when I spent the day with my grandfather, because at the time I was trudging through the messy stages of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, desperately looking forward to when I have a completed draft in my hands. Now that I’ve abandoned that, because it just wasn’t working for me, I still find that I’m struggling to find the motivation to write as regularly as I would like. Lately I’ve been writing even when I don’t feel like it, because that gets me to the later drafts. But perhaps the rough writing, though more difficult, can also be more rewarding in itself, in part because the progress is very visible. Hopefully this new insight will help me not only keep writing (on a regular basis), but enjoy the writing itself as much as the final product.

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