My nephew turned twenty-one last night, so I did the avuncular thing and took him out for his first legal beer. The talk turned, over beers, as talk will turn over beers, to “the meaning of life and the isness of it all.” He asked me why I write, and, in true Socratic fashion I tossed the question back to him. “Why do you think I write?” I asked, and he told me the two reasons that immediately sprang to mind: money and ego.
We parsed these possibilities, and soon dismissed them as dead ends. If I were in it for the money, we reasoned, there were many other careers I could choose that would draw a more reliable and ready earn. The writer’s path, on the face of it, is just a lousy longshot choice if all you want is walking green.
Ego, then? Ego? The soul-satisfying sense of everyone looking at me in admiration and deep awe? That’s a great goal if you’re [insert famous writer’s name here.] However, if you’re a low- to mid-list author like me, the search for ego gratification through writing is, like the search for fat paychecks, kind of a dry well. More often than not, it’s going to go the other way. The world will largely ignore, or resoundingly reject, my written words, and then the only thing my ego gets is the grey, dismaying sense of, “Ouch, my feelings.” No fun. And no path that a sensible person might choose.
At this point, I think, my nephew began to become dismayed – sad for his “silly Uncle John,” who has never successfully masqueraded as a sensible person but could at least be counted on to make choices in his own self-interest. If the money wasn’t there, and the ego strokes weren’t there, what could possibly be worth banging my head against the page for day after week after month after year? Was my career, in the end, not the very definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results?
That’s when I hit him with the third thing – the one thing that’s kept me coming back to words on the page from the very start to these very words here. [Read more…]