…at least that’s what my friend said. We were talking about web design and web copy writing, but we could just as easily have been talking about writing in general. It made me wonder about the purpose(s) other writers might have for writing novels. Now I’m certainly not going to turn down cash for my writing, and I don’t know an author who would, but that isn’t the primary reason that I write.
What is it then? Why do I write? You’d think a Philosophy major would have asked themselves that question before typing a single word, but I’d never really thought about it before. Why would anyone voluntarily put themselves through such a notoriously frustrating, unflattering, and poorly-paying field that makes a career in porn sound more rewarding?
Below is the list of seven reasons I could imagine motivating authors to write. There are probably more, but I think I got all the major ones. If you can think of any I missed, toss them in the comments.
It’s probably pretty rare for an author to fall under a single one of these motivations, and there may be different motivations for each story an author writes. More likely it’s some combination of several motivations, even if they’re subconscious ones.
1 – Commercial
My capitalist friend has a point. The most obvious answer to the question “Why write novels?” would be, “For the Money” and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the most popular answer, although anyone who knows anything about the publishing industry should take my advice and buy lottery tickets instead. The dress code is the same but the pay is better, and so are the hours.
I’d lump Charity into this category as well, since it’s work being traded as a gift of some value.
“Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.”
If there was ever an artist who could have created art solely for commercial purposes, it was Andy Warhol. His New York gallery project The American Supermarket contained works of art laid out like food items in a supermarket (along with the infamous Campbell’s Soup Can painting) which pretty much hits this nail on the head with an aircraft carrier.
Nowadays we have “Commercial Artists” a title people aren’t even ashamed of. Cross ‘commercial artist’ with ‘writer’ and you get “Copy Writer” – someone who writes advertisement/product/web copy for a living. The fact that this career path exists is proof enough that cash is a major motivation for some authors.
But that ain’t me. Not yet, anyway. I still have a day job, so I have the luxury of not depending on my writing to put food on the table. Believe me, this is a good thing. But it still leaves my core writing motives unanswered, so let’s dig a little deeper…
2 – Fame
Some authors think they can actually get famous by writing. I mean, red carpet famous. I mean, their likeness parodied on The Simpsons famous.
It’s not unreasonable for beginning authors to release their work for free in an attempt to grow their fan base. In fact, it’s the method I use to increase membership in The Cult of Zero, and it works quite well. Giving away free samples of your work will make you more popular. But if you think your writing is going to make you the next Stephanie Meyer or Stephen King: read this and calm down.
I don’t write for fame, and I have no delusions of being the next Neil Gaiman or Amanda Hocking. If I wanted fame, I’d release the home video of me, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Ahem. Moving right along…
3 – Informational / Educational
No one pays the writers of the articles on wikipedia. Many of those authors are driven by a desire to teach. To educate. To share information.
Authors of non-fiction must be at least partially motivated by the need to inform or educate others. Even if they have an ulterior Commercial motivations, they simply aren’t going to sell many How To Write the Best Dark Fiction Ever books if they don’t actually inform the audience How To Write the Best Dark Fiction Ever.
Memoirs and biographies (especially auto-biographies) generally fall into this area, unless you’re interesting enough that someone approaches you with a book deal for your life story.
I pepper my writing with factoids, but stories about how to save the world from Giant Carnivorous Poisonous Exploding Spider-Leeches… well, they aren’t generally found the in the “how to” section of the bookstore. (If I’m wrong about this, please drop a link in the comments section.) So this isn’t really a motivation for my writing either. Maybe someday I’ll write a real Demonslayer’s Handbook…
4 – Influential / Persuasive
Some art exists only to front an ulterior motive or agenda. Political and Religious texts that are not objectively written can fall quickly from the Informational / Educational category into this one. It could be argued that authors who do this are actually Commercially motivated, because they are “selling” an idea or philosophy. I don’t “buy” that. (Pun intended.)
If there’s any influence in my writing, its not intentional. Persuasive writing generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth even if the writing is good, and even if I agree with the agenda being pushed.
Georges Braque said, “Art is meant to Disturb.” He did NOT say, “Art is meant to justify and perpetuate your narrow-minded opinion.”
5 – Aesthetic / Entertainment
Simply put, some people make art just to change the world. They want to make people laugh, or cry, or swoon, or simply “mess with their minds.” Graffiti probably belongs in this category. Can you imagine what the world would be like if all authors only wrote for aesthetic value?
Perhaps this motivation would be better summed up by the word Power. Aesthetic implying power to change the world, and Entertainment implying power to change other humans.
Is this why I write? Not completely. Of course I want my novels to be glittering gems of dark fiction treasure that make women’s toes curl, shots of bestselling urban-fantasy-meth that make men thrust their fists in the air and chant “Hell Yeah!” But if this was the reason I wrote, I’d be writing some cross between James Patterson and Danielle Steele.
6 – Forced / Compelled
Speaking of motivations, there’s plenty of reasons someone might write something they really don’t want to write:
My boss made me do it.
My teacher made me do it.
The Devil made me do it.
My publishing contract made me do it.
Someone had to do it.
This covers anyone forced to write at gunpoint, and pretty much all of your business and school writings. It also covers automatic writing and people possessed by evil spirits. In fact, I recently saw a book that the author said was “…dictated to me by the Creator.” I guess if the Creator dictates a book to you, you’d better write it down. (But you don’t necessarily have to publish it. Just sayin.)
You’ve probably heard about the ‘contractual obligation’ manuscripts some multi-book-deal authors complain about? Those authors might fall into this category, but they won’t get much sympathy from me. It’s like complaining about the payments on your foreign sports car, while the majority of authors are walking. But at least when the commercial motivation fizzles, they have an agent and a publisher with deadlines that will help motivate them to write.
Obviously, this isn’t my main motivation for writing, although I have had stories “haunt” me, and I felt that if I just Got-The-Damn-Story-Out-Of-My-Head I could have some peace. But this is usually during the initial phase of writing a story, so it isn’t my primary motivation.
7 – Because Writing Is Fun
This one seemed so simple I almost missed it. At first blush this seems similar to “forced or compelled” motivation crossed with the “Aesthetic” motivation and mixed with Rainbows and Vermouth. There’s no shortage of the romanticized visions of authors dreamily constructing their bestselling masterpiece, usually in a very short montage, with a soundtrack of hipster music and bright lighting.
Of course this is mostly Bullshit. The real writing process for me takes place in a basement that looks more like the set for a High On Fire video than The White Stripes. No rainbows, and hardly any Vermouth.
But notice I said “mostly” bullshit. There is a small piece of that Fictional Fiction Writer’s World that is non-fiction to me.
I actually enjoy writing.
My stories, with all the doom, gloom, blood, death and disembowelment are, strangely enough, what I call my “Happy Place.” I enjoy writing dark fiction because it means I get to go to interesting places and hang out with cool people, hideous monsters, unfathomable evil, Exploding Spider-Leeches and chicks with swords.
Call it a sickness if you will, but there’s no cure that I know of. No, not even more cowbell.
Perhaps this motivation would be better labeled as “Escape” which, interestingly, is the same reason many people READ dark fiction.
And there it is. My primary motivation for writing is that I really enjoy it. It’s why I also write song lyrics and blog posts like this one. I wish it paid better. But like I said, if I was doing it for the money, I’d get a second job and/or buy some lottery tix.
There must be other people out there who simply enjoy writing for its own sake, and not for external motivations. The alternate motivations like fame, money and such are nice if they get fulfilled, but if writing itself gives you pleasure, then the journey is the reward and anything else is a bonus.
What do you think? Am I way off? Can all these different categories be subsumed under Commercial? Or Aesthetic? Can you add to the list?