Why do I write? Who am I writing for?
These are two of the most important questions any aspiring writer/artist must ask themselves. And, I believe, you cannot be truly successful, or know fully who or what you are, until you have answered them both honestly. Why are you doing it, and who are you doing it for? In this blog post I shall give my answers to both of these questions. Your own answers may very well be different (I would hope they are, should we all be the same).
Why Do I Write?
I believe it is possible to put every person who calls themselves a writer into one of two categories. There are those who write because they like the idea of being a writer. They see the likes of JK Rowling and George R R Martin, scooping up tens, if not hundreds of millions of pounds/dollars for their work and think: I can do that. How hard can it be? They think, and yes, most even go as far as creating a synopsis, either on paper or just in their heads (usually just in their heads). These people then gloat to their peers about how they are going to be the next big thing. They talk about how well they will do, how unique their ideas are, how no one has ever done anything like them before and the world will bow down and collectively drops their slackened jaws in sheer awe at the magnificence of their work. They are, for want of a better word, deluded. These people talk more about their writing then they do actually writing. On Twitter, they tweet famous writers and then brag to their friends about re-tweets, they go to writers talks or creative writing classes and act like they know it all, and, because most people do not know any different, they believe them, further ensnaring said writer in their own delusion. And through it all – through all the dreaming and bragging – they fail to see that these writers whom they hold in such high esteem (Rowling, Gaiman, King, Martin etc) did not write their novels because they hoped to be stupidly rich and famous and successful. They wrote them because they were, in fact, members of the second category of people. The true category.
Members of this category write not because they desire fame and fortune, but because they have to write. These people, myself included, write because it is a part of them. I write stories because when I walk or have a few brief moments of solitude, my brain goes to other places. For some reason, when I think, I do not think about bills to pay, the mortgage, work, my friends, my life. I think instead about other worlds, and deals with the devil, and castles in the imagination. I do not think. I imagine. This is a blessing, and, at times, a curse (excuse the dramatic cliché). When I imagine, I build stories, and if I do not get those stories out of my head and onto paper I grow anxious, fidgety, and on occasions, depressed. If I do not write I feel clogged. These stories, these voices in my mind, they beg to be told, and if I do not tell them those characters begin taking pickaxes to my memories and start dislodging my every day thoughts. The less I write, the less I remember. It is as simple as that. It is like these voices – these stories – that appear in my head are the voices of real people, somewhere in the world. Perhaps when people pray, those prayers are not heard by God, but by writers? It certainly feels that way sometimes, that if I don’t tell their stories I am somehow doing them a disservice.
So that is why I write. I write, because I have to. I believe that if you ask any successful writer/artist/actor/singer why they do what they do, they will tell you the same. This also comes hand in hand with success. To be a good writer, you must practise. I am still practising. I always will be, I think. But those writers who write because they want to will fall short in the end, because they lack the stamina, the will to put in all those novels. They lack the patience to persevere through the mountains of rejections, the bad books, the crap short stories, the mind-numbingly dull poetry, and so they give up. However, we writers who write because we have to, will always put in those hours. We will write novel, after novel, after novel, not because we are seeking fame and fortune, but because we must. And through those years of solitary story-telling our craft improves. With every story – with every 100,000 words – we get better, and in the end, after five years, ten years, fifteen, twenty, we arrive at a standard that is good enough to be shared.
Who Do I Write For?
This is harder to answer than the first question, because since deciding that I wanted to take this journey, that I would attempt to turn these voices into a career, my target audience has changed, time and time again. At first I wrote for myself. As I said before, I wrote because I had to. I needed to. But now that I am being mentored and working on a book with an industry professional, I can no longer think purely for myself. I have to consider: who else will read this? Children, is the answer, but it is not the full answer.
My novel, The Miracle of Harrow Falls, is an upper-middle grade novel. For those who don’t know, that is for children aged 9-12. I teach that age range. I know it well. I know it very well. This gives me an advantage. If you were to look at the children’s book market at the moment, you will see it dominated by the likes of David Walliams, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Jeremy Strong. These contain the usual – the expected. There is a story, not too complex, light, humorous, and a whole load of toilet humour. I have nothing against this. This sells. It is big business, and children lap it up. But not all children. Being a teacher I see the darker side of children’s lives. I see children who are neglected, abused, bullied, at school and at home. I see children struggle to cope as their parents divorce, get ill . . . even die.
These children are not interested in fart jokes.
At first, before I became a teacher, I would have said: “No! These funny books are good. They cheer them up! They take them out of their misery and make them smile.” But I am a teacher. A child came back after the last half term and informed me that her mother has lung cancer. She was confused, devastated. I can tell you, no amount of toilet humour was going to put a smile on her face. She didn’t need to smile. She needed to understand. She was in a dark place, and she needed to talk to other people who were also in dark places so she could figure out how they escaped back into the light. These children are after escape. They are desperate for it, and from what I see, they are seeking it in YA fiction. Children as young as nine read dark, disturbing YA novels, most of which contain content (Sex, drugs, violence) that they should not be exposed to. And yet they still read them. They read because they are in a dark place, and only characters also in dark places can help.
Who do I write for? I write for them. I write for the children who are going through things that no child should go through. I take characters and I put them through hell, not because I want to be dark and edgy, but because I want to show that no matter how deep you go, there is always a light at the end. I am not interested in books about underpants or smelly tramps or toilet-roll billionaires. That limits my market, and I will not get rich writing the books I do, but I’m not in this to get rich. I’m in this to show those who are so down they fear they may never get up, that it’s okay, that they’re not alone, and that if they fight -and I mean really fight- they have a chance at happiness once again.
So there it is. The reason I write, and who I write for.
If you are a writer, what are your answers? What are your reasons?