Friday, October 30, 2009


WHY WE WRITE, a digression by Jim Woods

The three basic reasons that writers write creatively and voluntarily are therapy, money and immortality. I use the disclaimer “voluntarily” because some authors, advertising copywriters for instance, or research and scientific report writers, write because they are required to as a condition of their work. This obviously may be classed as writing for money, but it can’t be considered under the voluntary reasons for creative writing.

Grief is a strong motivator for writing. Pain is eased, suffering is shared, death is made easier for the living, as all these become the subjects or objects of writing. Words that might never be spoken aloud are often given full voice when their effects are committed to paper. Therapy writers seldom are widely recognized for their literary efforts, and in truth, most of such writing is not intended to be seen by anyone but the writer and very close family and confidantes, and perhaps others who have experienced similar circumstances as the writer.

Writing for therapy crosses into writing for immortality, especially in relation to the genre of family history. Recalling, in print, the accomplishments, disappointments, failures, foibles, and personalities of distant and current family members makes for good literature– for a limited audience. That readership, limited though it might be, usually is greater in number than for the more private grief therapy writing. The writing also revives the past, and that gives its subjects, as well as the writer, a measure of immortality.

Of course, if that writing was widely read while the writer lived– a best seller– then the author might have claimed long-lived notoriety as well as money. Writing for wealth, as opposed to writing for wages, is a goal for many but an accomplishment for few. As long as literary success is measured in money, it follows that the writer whose books sell more copies makes more money. Almost everyone who writes for commercial reasons, and that would be every writer other than those writing for therapy or immortality, expects to author a best seller. Book sales numbers will prove that to be a goal rarely attained. A case could be made that immortality is more likely for a commercially successful writer than one not so successful. It stands to reason that the more copies of a book in existence, the more likely that more of them survive time.

Author immortality, rather than subject immortality, may just be the most important motivator in writing. A commercially published work that is a financial failure is printed on the same stock as a best seller. Vanity published works also can be recorded on durable paper. The fact that books, however well they sold or how well they were written, frequently are not so fragile as the flesh of the writer, and that allows the books to be more lasting that the authors themselves. We write, therefore, perhaps to leave something of us behind for future generations, but more likely for those future generations simply to take note that we passed this way before them. A paper-printed work may not be thought to be as durable as granite engraving, but it tells so much more about the person than the stone alone.

And all this is simply one man’s opinion.

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Contributed by Jim Woods, author of Champagne Books Assassination Safari, Parting Shot and Gunshot Echoes.

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