Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Writer's Musings: Why I Write

This week, instead of a flash fiction challenge, Chuck Wendig asked us all to write a 1000-word essay on why we write. I didn't count the words, but I'm pretty sure I'm under the line.

Why I Write

My initial reaction to this question was to ask why I even need to ask it. I write because that's who I am. What I do. What more is there to say?

But of course there is a lot more to say. If it's purely a matter of identity, how do I explain the years and years when I wrote almost nothing--taking nearly 15 years to draft an 80,000-word mystery?* So even though I have always thought of myself as a writer, always wanted to write books, and began almost as soon as I could hold a pencil, there must be a reason why I write now.

What I'm looking for is the reason why at this time in my life, I'm writing nearly daily (okay, I admit that it's not always on my books, and this summer has been a mess and I've really not written anything like daily, but it is a generally true statement). In large part, it still comes back down to the urge to write that's been there all along. About five years ago, that urge found a new outlet, and I began writing a lot more often, composing the stories that made up The Ninja Librarian, and sharing them with my co-workers at the library.

I think that might be at the root of why I kept writing more and more, instead of losing track of the project for months and years at a time, as I did with earlier books: I had found an audience. I had found an audience, moreover, that loved my work. The librarian after whom I modeled the Ninja Librarian was delighted to keep featuring in new stories. My other fellow library-minions laughed at the stories (in the right way) and asked for more.

There was another thing that happened about that time, that wasn't me, but had a lot to do with me continuing to write: the self-publishing world experienced a giant shift, from Vanity Press to genuine self-publishing, in a way that took a lot of the stigma and most of the expense out of the DIY approach. And I'd had enough of rejection slips (during those years when I say I mostly wasn't writing, I actually produced and shopped around two adult mysteries and a children's book, and collected the usual pile of [mostly well-deserved] rejections).

When I looked at The Ninja Librarian, I saw that it was good. I also saw that it was a bit stuck between audiences, if not between genres. And I didn't feel like spending the time to put it out there and let the agents tell me that. I wanted to share the book wherever I could. So I did it myself.

That led to the other reason I write, and write pretty regularly (most of the time now I have a fair bit of discipline about it). Because when I had put that book out there, and shared it in my community, and read bits of it to school children who bought copies, I started hearing the questions authors love: "When is the next book coming out?"*** There is nothing like someone eagerly awaiting your work to make you want to sit down and get to it. Especially when that someone is a kid, looking up at you with big eyes, asking for your next book.

So, ultimately, that's why I write: because I did it once, and now there are people who want more.**** And that feeds my ego, but it also tells me I'm doing something right. It tells me that yeah, I'm a writer. And that's pretty danged cool. That's why I write.

*Okay, there's that little matter of getting my PhD, getting married, and having two kids in that period, too. For quite a few years after high school, I was just too busy. Not too busy to write--I think I know now that a person can always find the time to write at least a little, if they want to. I was too busy to feel the urge to write.**

**I was also busy having my ability to write readable prose beaten out of me by the necessity of learning to write academic prose. It took me years to get over that.

***Note that this is very close to the question authors hate, "Are you writing anything now?" If one is a writer, one is of course working on something now. And if by any chance one isn't (writers block or life interferes, or something), one really doesn't want to be reminded. But "when is the next book due?" is a totally flattering question that feeds our pathetic authorial egos and soothes the ravenous insecurity-monster.

****Not enough to make me rich, but enough to keep me in coffee. That's worth something, right?

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015


  1. I feel you with addendum number two. Nothing kills creative juices like writing papers.

    1. Oh, lordy. And the other book I wrote in those 15 or 20 years was a 300-page dissertation.

  2. Beautifully written. You have emoted what every writer wants to say :)

  3. Fifteen years ago I liked your stories, but now your writing has caught up with your creative imagination, and the result--well, it can move people. (It moves me.) Your persistent attention to craft over time is simply impressive, a lesson and example for those who love you and for those (especially kids) who love your work. I'm relieved that you show no signs of giving it up!

    1. Dave is of course utterly unbiased. Thank you, sweetheart.

  4. I'm glad I decided not to do this exercise (I hope you enjoy what I did instead!) since mine would have said almost exactly the same (except for the kids) but not nearly so well. :)

    1. I'm just excited to start reading the Perihelix! Possibly starting today. I've been trying to finish another book, and clean things up.


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