Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Why of Writing

I've read and heard a few different things lately that have caused me to consider my real purpose as a writer.

First, in our Stake Conference a few weeks ago, the visiting authority suggested that we ask "Why?" when seeking motivation to adhere to any principle of the gospel. If we have a clear answer to "Why do our visiting teaching?" or "Why do missionary work?" and the like, we will be more successful at it.

I think we writers can extend that principle to our writing, so I've begun to ask myself, "Why do I write?" Is it a need, or is it to gain something--fame, fortune (Hah!), a sense of accomplishment, respect from others? Or is it something more than any of those things?

Second, there was a discussion on a message board recently about David Farland's most recent Daily Kick posting. Generally, he was pointing out that several of those he has taught have gone on to fame and/or fortune, and he was wondering what he needed to do to make it big (or at least "bigger"), so to speak. As his wife put it, "Dave, why don't you go write something big? Don't let all of your students take all of the largest contracts."

But is that why I write? To get a great big, fat, juicy publishing contract? The odds of that are slim to none, of course, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't shoot for it, does it? Hmmm...

He went on to say that he felt authors should constantly be striving to be better, surpassing the work they've done before (and I agree), but then he went on to measure the author's growth by his/her number of readers, focusing on an author's power to convert non-readers into readers.

That is certainly a compelling reason to write, but is it my reason?

Finally, I came across the reason that rings closest to my own. It was given by Kurt Vonnegut in a 2006 letter politely declining to visit a high school in New York. They had wanted his best advice for a successful career in writing, and this is what he wrote, as published in The Huffington Post:

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.
Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
Kurt Vonnegut

That's the reason I write: to make my soul grow. And if I can help some other souls grow in the process, all the better! 
I may not do it every day. I may not ever get an agent, or a big publishing contract, or have a line of fans out the door at my book signings. I may never hit the NYT Bestsellers list (or any bestsellers list, for that matter). But you know what? No matter how much Dave Farland or others try to make this into a science, I think writing is an art, and art is serendipitous. Some, like J.K. Rowling, hit it big and not just because they write well. Most do not. It's kind of beyond our control after a certain point.
The only thing we can control is the practice, and practice, as we all know, makes perfect. It makes our souls grow. That's why we were given talents in the first place--to grow them and grow our souls. And the best way to make your soul grow through writing (or any other art) is to create something that serves others.
That's my why of writing. This will be my last post here. Thanks to Valerie and all of you readers for your kind attention. I wish you success in finding the best way to grow your own souls.

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