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The Point of Writing

Flickr Creative Commons: Jason Eppink [1]
Flickr Creative Commons: Jason Eppink

There’s a lot of talk these days about getting yourself a presence on social media, upping your profile, selling yourself, marketing your work, using every angle and every connection in order to “get out there,” hustle your product, hit the bestseller lists, make a splash.

This post is just to remind you that none of this is what writing is about.

Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms.

The point of writing is to tell a story with your insight, the perspective that only you have.

The point of writing is to think deeply and to inform, entertain, communicate your insight with your readers.

The point of writing is to seek truth.  And it doesn’t matter how you do that, or whether you’re writing thrillers or detective stories or comedies, or picture books for children.  Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading long after you’ve spent the money that someone may or may not have paid you for your work.

Writers are not marketing experts or salesmen.  Although these qualities are required of nearly all writers these days, it is vitally important not to forget that the job is to write, not to get a high score on Goodreads.

What does this mean?

It means putting on blinkers and ignoring the noise of the world.  It means not thinking about success when you should be thinking about truth.  Or at the very least — about story, or character, or what your book will say that has never been said before.

Think about the real point of writing when you sit down to write “a synopsis that will sell!”  Or spend hours a day on twitter “building your profile.”  Or when you ruin a morning obsessively checking your Amazon ranking.

The purpose of art is to inspire, to shock, to provoke, to connect, to satisfy yourself first and foremost – and you should never be satisfied.

William Faulkner described writing like this:  “Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. {The writer} must never be satisfied with what he does.  It never is as good as it can be.  Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors.  Try to be better than yourself.  An artist is a creature driven by demons.”

Writing is like sex.  If you’re doing it right, you will not be thinking about success.

About Meg Rosoff [2]

Meg Rosoff [3] was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and worked in NYC for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, (released late 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan), at age 46. Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Michael J Printz award. Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award . She lives in London with her husband and daughter.