Mark Terry

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why Fiction?

November 9, 2009
Why write fiction? I know maybe why you do, I think. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's a compulsion. "I have to." "It's what God put me on earth to do." (I hate that one. There's some poor starving, disease-ridden schmuck out there in the world, a bunch of them, and I doubt they're thinking: this is what God put me on earth to do. And if he/she did, well, what kind of a god is that?)

We watched W. this weekend, a weird movie, not the satire I thought it was going to be, a sort of half-assed biopic about George W. Bush, and if you take what is says at face value, George W. both felt compelled to run for President as a mission from God, as well as a way to prove himself to his father. I actually suspect both are true, but hey... just because you think God wants you to do it doesn't mean God actually wants you to do it.

I make a tidy living as a freelance writer, better than tidy most of the time, and my finances, from what I can tell, wouldn't be any worse off by quitting fiction entirely. And yet I keep coming back to it.

Because I can? Is writing fiction MY Mt. Everest? I climb it to prove myself? I climb it "because it's there." I climb it "because I can."

I'm always amused, a little distastefully, perhaps, when a novelist says something along the lines of, "I'm not well-suited for anything else"

Well, shit, Kemosabe, neither are most of those poor slobs that have been doing backbreaking manual labor in some hellhole 4th world country. They don't have education, haven't seen a computer, and wouldn't know what to do with a desk and chair. If you can't make a living as a novelist, poor guy with no other useful skills, maybe we can stick you out in a construction zone holding a flag that says SLOW on it, because maybe that's a sign you should carry around with you, if the only skillset you have is making up stories. Hell, go back to school to become a nurse's aid. At least the world NEEDS nurses. Just about the last thing the world needs is another freakin' novelist. If a selective plague killed off every novelist in the world, none of us would have a shortage of reading material, trust me on that.

So why?

Because I can, I suppose.

You?


10 Comments:

Blogger Eric said...

This is classic. It's all oh so true. As to why I keep writing, in general...when I'm actually writing I enjoy playing with words. For some reason I find manipulating words to be fun/challenging/satisfying. Probably how my brain is wired. I wouldn't have to write fiction to enjoy writing. Fiction, as you aptly put it, is Mt Everest. For some reason, at a young age, I got the idea that I wanted to climb that mountain of professional publication and get to the summit -- published novelist. To the extent I keep going it's because I don't feel like I have got there yet and it pisses me off.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I say I FREELANCE because I am not well-suited to an office, though I have foudn publishing houses that were laid-back places I liked to work in-house.

I think I write fiction because all these years later, it is still really FUN. It still excites me. It's still in a lot of ways, possesses that kind of kick you get from hobbies you really enjoy--but in this case, I also earn a living at it.

E

8:22 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Eric,
I find it fun, challenging, and satisfying as well. I'm lucky. I get to do this. I wasn't terribly happy working as a cytogenetics technologist, however, I was probably reasonably well suited for it. I could do it more than competently. I'm reasonably certain that there are a number of jobs out there for which I'm well-suited, and could do competently or better. And the truth is, many of them would probably be far better jobs than writing, novels or freelancing, simply because they provide steady pay, benefits, paid time off, etc. But those aren't as important to me as I once would have thought.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Erica,
I suspect there would be an office environment that I might thrive in. I just never worked in it. I suspect I might do reasonably well in academia and have been tempted from time to time to go back to school in some area such as economics, literature, whatever. On the other hand, I listened to my brother, a college prof, tell a story about a multi-disciplinary program they were trying to pull together when he taught at California State-L.A., and how all the different departments--music, writing, film, etc., got into so many turf wars they eventually scrapped the entire program.

What I can't always decide is if it's the writing that makes me happiest, or being my own boss and working out of my house. Some days the writing seems completely secondary to the self-employment aspects.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

You already know what I'm going to say: It's my density.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Stephen,
Live long and prosper. Or I'll melt your brain.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Linda Pendleton said...

Simply, I enjoy writing...both fiction and nonfiction. I have a creative drive and it is a darn good outlet to express that drive instead of keeping it in the mind. As my late husband, Don Pendleton said, "There are no books inside. Books are forever outside...and the novelist is forever building them."

12:08 PM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

But it IS! I am so not well-suited for holding a SLOW sign! *giggle*

Seriously, though. Writing fiction is easy for me. Not the actual writing, but... the being a writer, sort of. (Please don't hate me.) The gigs I get have all come easily. Things just fall in my lap. (I'm convinced this is because the universe knows I'm a weakling, so again, please don't hate me.) My motivation is just there, easy-peasy. I have self-doubt, sure, but... people could say I'm a total dud with no talent and it wouldn't bother me. I'd just keep trucking. I just know this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now.

Music, on the other hand, took some effort to work up ambition and motivation. It was more a manual button, whereas writing fiction is just always there for me.

I'd work in a bookstore, though. I've been dreaming about working in a bookstore for years and years.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Oh wait, but here's something appropriately depressing ;-) that you might like: More On the Reality of a Times Bestseller.

*sigh*

1:40 PM  
Blogger Sharon Mayhew said...

Why do I write fiction? UMMM, I wasn't allowed to lie as a kid, so now I make up stuff all of the time. How's that? UMMM, I don't like reality, so I go visit somewhere else as often as possible. Getting closer? UMMM, Books were my escape as a child. They took me to a better life. They taught me things. They gave me hope. I write because I want to do the same thing for some other child.

I'm not there yet. I had a story published in a kid's magazine last month. I get hand written rejections almost everytime I send something out...I must be getting closer...

1:43 PM  

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