So why do we write, those of us who do?
It may seem a bit presumptuous of me to talk about this—I haven’t even had my first novel published yet. But it’s not really, because you’d better have a good reason for devoting months and years of your life—without pay—to something.
John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me, said he wrote because writing helped him understand. Alth0ugh I’m certainly not writing a book as important as Mr. Griffin’s masterwork, I write for basically the same reason. Writing makes me really think things through. You have to if you’re doing honest writing. (The male protagonist in my story is not doing honest writing and this gnaws him. Dishonest writing, however, is so often what people want and what pays the most money.) There were issues about fame and recognition and celebrity and desire that I wanted to explore. Our culture seemed, and seems, utterly obsessed with these issues.
But there are also the issues of privacy, security, and general sanity that comes with living in a fishbowl constantly. I deliberately made my character famous at age 11—early enough so that she’s essentially been famous “all her life,” but late enough so that she remembers some of what “normal” life used to feel like.
The other character, the male protagonist, has never been famous, or even, he feels, appreciated. He’s writing by the word to pay the rent, even though he’s an excellent writer, because he has to. He has no problems with privacy, anonymity, and security. But his ego is shriveled and small.
I have been wondering how much someone would trade for fame. Different people have different ways of reacting to it, of course; compare Lindsay Lohan and Natalie Portman in real life.
I decided to write about this because I didn’t want to fall back on the usual clichés, the kind you hear so often about famous people, the way a character in my novel named Ron does. I created Ron to be annoying. (He annoyed me at least.) He’s an amalgamation of so many “smart” people I’ve met over the years.
I write to get inside people’s heads. Plot generally doesn’t concern me, except where it’s dictated by what’s inside people’s heads. (I’ll tell you right now, if you’re looking for a traditional “page-turner,” don’t read my novel. You’ll hate it.) Characters come first, plot second. And there actually has turned out to be a lot more plot in this than I originally envisioned. At first this was a novella of a series of conversations, very short and minimalist. But I decided it might be a little too much like My Dinner With Andre, except it’s in a Starbucks and it’s coffee.
But the biggest reason I write—and what I try to accomplish most of all—well, that’s the subject of my next post.