Monday, 25 October 2010

Why do writers write? In fact, why does anybody write?


I am having an inner struggle with the time it takes me to write anything, and whether that time is truly worthwhile. The irony of this is that I love to read. It is my favourite pastime, and I devour books. You would think, therefore, that I am the answer to my own question. However, there seems to be a gap in my brain, or my heart, or my will, between my hunger to read and my motivation to write. Perhaps the problem is that I don't believe anyone would really want to read (or hear) anything I have to say. "Well," you might argue with me, if you were in the room, "then you shouldn't speak, either!"

When you are speaking to someone, you can gauge their reaction to your words immediately. You have instant gratification, and you can change what you are saying to keep them interested, or at least try to obtain the reaction you were hoping for using more than just your words. When writing, your audience is mute, dark and uncontrollable. Perhaps that's what is ultimately comes down to - control. I know that some writers would defend their medium by saying that they can be perfectly in control. They can take hours or days over each word that they choose, so that the reader's reaction can be fine-tuned.

However, I know one thing. The reader has a mind and a will of his own. I know this because I often read books, and then look up reviews or interviews with the writer and am amazed at how different people's reactions were to mine, or how different the writer's intended outcome was. A book in my hands, as a reader, has become my own. The writer has lost control over it completely. I can skip pages. I can read the end first. Most particularly, the characters, the plot, the landscapes, the emotions all ultimately belong to me. It matters not how brilliantly illuminating the descriptive prose is; my imagination can only be made up of images and senses that I have experienced or constructed from my own life. This means that although the writer uses the common medium of words, in fact the true material of the writer's work is the soul of the reader. And that is unique for each one.

So I have not really answered my question. Perhaps a writer is there to provide the raw materials for vicarious experience. I could not write for that purpose. It seems too functional for me. One thing I do know is that my purposes for writing something may summarily match the purposes of the reader for reading it. Going deeper, though, once the adventure has begun and the reader has left his world and embarked onto the page, my purposes are tangential. They are trivial. My work is a setting for the reader's imagination to play. It is mere skin and bones for the soul of their story.

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