Monday, July 22, 2013

on writing and selfishness

I have been a very selfish writer.  You  know about people--or at least, I know about people, some of them my friends--who write because they feel called.  Because they have something to say that they believe the world really needs to hear.

I was never like that as a young novelist.  I wrote as an escape from my life, which I found unsatisfying or just...not interesting enough for me.  My reasoning was, if I could create a situation (a boy in the woods without supplies) and get my character out of it (survive, live off the land, a la My Side of the Mountain), it was just as if I myself had gone through that experience.  It meant I was smart--it meant I was interesting.  It meant something to me.

I didn't care if anyone else enjoyed my writing.  I didn't care if anyone else read my writing!  I didn't even care that when my parents did read some of my actually hurt them.  I wrote for me, for my own enjoyment, for my own entertainment.  I'm not sure I even had something to say back then.

It was easy for me to "give up" writing for a few years, because all I had to motivate me was my own pleasure.  Sure, it's not a bad feeling to get some compliments, or place in a contest, but because I didn't care about my readers in a deep way, it wasn't enough to hold me.  I let myself fall out of practice.

A few people have actually said to me, "When you stopped writing, I was actually really offended/upset/angry."  They felt like I had taken a talent that I was given and squandered it--let it die.  It is a refrain of my mother's to say, "If I had a voice like you do, I would be a singer.  If I could write like you do, I would be a writer."  Sometimes I think if I can do something well, I ought to devote my life to it.

Now, yes, and no.  I am, in reality, a hobbyist.  I sing, I write, I take pictures.  I will probably never be an extreme expert in all of those things--but I have a great desire to do many things well.  Not perfectly, perhaps, as my mother would tell you, but I do want a balance of breadth and depth.  So no, I don't believe that I am required to be a writer, simply because I can write.  However, I see their point.  And I think, now that I am getting older, now that my eyes are somewhat open to writing, now that I have something to say, I think I do have a responsibility to try.  To hone my skills, to invest in communicating with people through fiction, to think of someone other than myself when I'm deciding whether or not to practice today.

I'm not sure I'd say that writing for entertainment or relaxation is wrong, but I think if you never grow up and turn your talents to service and to're missing out on a beautiful gift.  I've been blessed in that, even while I have been a selfish writer in the past, my work has been used to encourage and inspire other writers and readers.  I'm so glad for that--but I hope I'm done with that stage, that immature not-caring.  I hope I will carry this feeling forward--this feeling of purpose, calling, and responsibility.  I think it's the next step.