Why do we write and where do we go from there?

(This may be the first of two posts today, so fair warning. I was hoping that the follow-up blog to the mind-blowing post over on Tor two weeks ago about “post binary gender in gender” would be up this morning so we could discuss it. However, it hasn’t been posted yet. If today’s post follows form, it will be published later this morning. So it is possible that I’ll be back then. Otherwise, I’ll leave it for Kate to fisk — er, discuss — tomorrow.)

I have a great writers’ group that I’ve been involved in for three years or so now. It’s a small group that meets twice a month. Most meetings, there are six or seven of us there. Some of us have been with the group for two plus years while others are newer members. We’ve had members come and go. You get that with most groups. But, over all, the feel of the group has never changed — it is a group where we do our best to give constructive critiques. We each realize that another important part of the group is the social aspect. For those two afternoons a month, we are with people who understand what it means to be a writer and who understand what drives us. That’s important.

One thing we talked about in our last meeting was how we have to write. There is something in each of us that makes writing an integral part of our being. Some of us have tried to stop writing. We have even managed to do it for extended lengths of time. The common result for those of us who did was that we were miserable. There was a feeling during those long months or years that we just weren’t whole. It didn’t matter what the reason for not writing might have been, the result was always the same. Once we broke down and said “screw it” and started writing again, we felt like a missing part had suddenly fallen into place.

So the question that seems to follow “why do we write” seems to be “where do we go from there?” It used to be that we had two choices, at least if we didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on vanity press scams that forced us to buy hundreds or thousands of copies of our books and then try to sell them out of our garages. We could either try to find an agent or publisher and go the traditional route or we wrote something, filed it away and went on to something else. How many of us tried to be published back in the dark ages of our youth or young adulthood and got discouraged because we couldn’t get a foot through the door at an literary agency or we kept getting form rejections from publishers that we knew never took time to read so much as the first chapter of our work?

Back in the dark ages, it was expensive to submit to publishers or agents without knowing you had a pretty darned good chance of at least having your manuscript read. Those were the days of having to print out your manuscript, mail it out and include return postage. Some publishers or agents required your submission to be in a padded envelop while others wanted those nice — and expensive — manuscript boxes. The only satisfaction I have today is knowing that those were also the days when agents and editors received submissions from those “creative” authors who would include glitter and scented cover letters on pink paper.

Yes, I’m odd but I take my amusement where I can get it.

It became easier to submit to publishers and agents as more and more began accepting electronic submissions but, at the same time, it seemed to become even more difficult to get a foot through the door. Maybe it was just that responses from publishers and agents came back so quickly. My personal best — or worse, depending on your point of view — was the query and first three chapters I sent per guidelines to an agent who said she’d reopened to submissions. Less than 30 seconds after sending my query I had a response in my email. Wow, what an agent. She had already read my query letter and three chapters — not. I got a level two rejection (I like it but it just doesn’t fit my needs right now) without her even taking time to download the attachments. Oh, and had my intelligence insulted by assuming I couldn’t add up the time for transmission of my email, length of time needed to read the email and then download the attachments before sending the response. I’d gotten an auto response and that agent was written off my list of potentials forever.

Thanks to Sarah and Kate, I didn’t let that discourage me — too much. Maybe it was fear of Sarah’s pointy boots, but I kept writing. I’m glad I did. In the time since that happened, we’ve had a marvelous change come to publishing. Amazon, and later B&N and others, opened their doors to small presses and even authors themselves, giving us a way to get our work into the hands of readers without having to try to beat down the doors of traditional publishing (where it is now as hard, if not more so, to get an agent than it is a publishing contract).

Now, when you start talking about the self-published authors, you will hear those folks who say they should never be allowed into the main catalog of sites like Amazon, etc. They want separate search pages and listing for books put out directly by authors or even small presses. Others don’t care. My take, most folks don’t pay a whit of attention to who “publishes” a book. They want a good story or a well-researched non-fiction book. They want it to be properly formatted and not rife with spelling and punctuation errors. Other than that, they don’t care where it comes from.

Did opening the gates to everyone flood the market? Yes and no. There was a time when everyone and his dog who ever thought about writing a book put their work up on Amazon for the kindle. The thing is, most of those folks have fallen by the wayside. Sure others have taken their places but they, too, will slowly disappear. The reasons are simple. First, writing a book isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes time and effort, especially if you take pride in your work. Second, you have to have a thick skin as a writer. Those reviews can sting and then some. It’s natural for us to want to see what people are saying about our work and, when we see someone slam our “baby”, it is very easy to take our toys and go home, never to return to the literary playground again.

Then there is the real reason so many writers put out only a book or two and then no more, especially self-published authors. We’ve been told how good our work is. Our friends and families tell us they just don’t understand why our work hasn’t been grabbed up by a “real” publisher and movie rights sold. So we take the time to write the best book we can, market it to the best of our ability and we hit the publish button.

And we wait for the money to roll in.

The reality is, most of us aren’t going to get rich writing. Some of us will be lucky enough to make enough from our writing to be able to live off of it. But for that to happen, we have to give up the expectation that it will happen right out of the starting gate. We have to keep plugging along, writing and publishing and making sure we don’t let too much time pass between new titles coming out. In other words, we have to keep working at it. It is our vocation as well as our avocation. We have to keep pulling up our big boy pants as we ignore the voices from the vocal but small PC/glittery hoo hah crowd that tells us we aren’t writing “meaningful” and “relevant” books. Sorry, but my aim is to write books the readers enjoy and will pay money for. I’ll leave the message books to them and trad publishing — and we’ll see who laughs best at the end. My money is on it being those of us who listen to our readers and who write books we can believe in.

So, here’s my question to you. Why do you write (or read the authors you do) and what should our next step as authors/readers be?


  1. Because I can.

    Life has taken away many of the other things I used to be able to do, and there is in me a drive to write that refuses to go away, so it gets what energy I have.

    I can’t imagine sitting around the house all day and watching TV (have you SEEN what’s on TV these days?) and eating bonbons (so not lo carb).

    I always planned to write when I retired – so I just got to start earlier and be a lot slower.

    1. It is that drive to write I both love and hate at times. I love it because it is an outlet. I also have come to learn it is something that runs in my mother’s side of the family. There are times, though, when I could strangle it. Usually when the muse is being a pain and refusing to let me work on what I want or need to be working on, instead dangling a shiny new idea out there to taunt me.

  2. I write because it lets me explore strange new worlds and gives me an excuse to do research. Yeah, I’m one of those weirdos who really likes sitting in a hard chair, freezing to death under flickering florescent lights and trying to decipher cross-written letters in bad handwriting in order to sort out why something is the way it is. I also like taking an idea (“what if . . . dinosaurs won?” “What if . . . European history had twitched here, and here, and here? Oh, that’s different.”) and spinning them into a world and a story.

    I think ABE hit a point as far as what’s next. We storytellers and story hunters are starting to push into the visual media again, starting with YouToob and computer games, then cable TV. Look at how much fantasy has appeared on the main networks, and how well written some of it is (Grimm, Sleepy Hollow). And more readers are starting to lean toward indie, especially as main-stream writers start jumping ship (Amy Tan most recently).

    1. Agreed. Also, readers have discovered that genres they’ve been told are dead or dying — like sf — are alive and well and thriving in indie publishing.

  3. Well, Amanda, I’m one of those mysterious “readers” you mentioned. Allow me to second your motion: that you continue to write stories that I enjoy, and for which I’ll pay good money. (You’ve certainly succeeded with the “Nocturnal…” series. Brava!)

    1. Ben, thanks being a reader and for liking the Nocturnal Lives series. I’m finishing up the third book in the Hunter’s Moon series (written under the Ellie Ferguson pen name) right now as well as the space opera I’m snippeting on my personal blog. After those are finished, I’ll be going back to Mac and company with the follow up to Nocturnal Interlude. Hopefully, it will be out by the Fall.

  4. The review of Maureen McHugh’s Mission Child is up (link). It seems to be what is says on the label: a review of an SF book discussing non-binary gender. I haven’t read the book, but here’s a quote from Jo Walton’s 2009 review: “As the book goes on Janna has issues with gender presentation—at first she disguises herself as a boy for protection, later she comes to identify herself as neither male nor female.”

    1. Yeah, the new article isn’t quite as fiskable as the first. I’s silly, but not monumentally so.

      1. Did anyone object that it wasn’t an interesting or appropriate subject for science fiction? I think that the objectionable aspect of the whole business was the implication (or near outright statement) that science fiction *must* address the question *all the time* and that failing to address the question was a moral and ethical failing that amounted to excluding people from the genre.

        1. Those who objected in anything but the most benign of manners had their comments deleted by Tor moderators. Those who blogged about it were often attacked by the likes of Hines and the gal who tried to take Larry Correia on about who was more popular based on the number of twitter followers.

    2. I saw it shortly after it went live. It’s been too long since I’ve read the book in question. Of course, my first thought when reading the post was that it most certainly was not the first book to deal with “non-binary gender” issues and, imo, not the best by any means. But to each his own, I guess.

      1. It was pretty quickly glossed over in the review, and since I haven’t read the book (and it doesn’t sound particularly appealing) I’ll ask here. Macfarlane wrote something along the lines of, “and then the Earthlings came to the planet and brought guns which caused war.” How simplified is that? Was there not conflict on said planet before the introduction of guns?

          1. No sweat. It’s hard to tell from the review whether it’s a reflection of the book or of the reviewers unquestioned and unquestionable views (“Weapons cause violence. Du-uh!”) I suspect the latter, given the givens, but I actually like to check my assumptions against evidence. Not enough to read the book, though.

  5. As I pulled up to the curb to pick up a friend (also a writer) to take him to church, he asked. “Why are you late?” my answer was “Because, I wanted to know what Clancy was going to do next.” Since he was a classical writer- plan; outline, chapter, and then write vs me- Start with, ‘what if this kid climbs into a tree and sees the neighbor’s wife come out of the shower?’ and who knows what happened until six hundred pages later, I don’t think he caught the point. Anyway, I write because the stories buried deep in my subconscious demand release and will give me no peace until they get it.

    1. Welcome to my world. I use to be the plotter. Now, I’m more of a pantser. Oh, I have a very basic outline when I get started on a project — one that is usually thrown out the window before then end of third chapter.

  6. I read because I want the emotional tension o facing a major problem. It could be a small problem that matters only to the POV character I’m identifying with, or it could be the End Of Life As We Know it. I’m not picky about my disasters.

    I want a hero. Don’t care what gender or sexual orientation. Don’t care what race or culture. I want him or her to believe in doing what’s right. I want them honest, honorable and reliable. They don’t have to be perfect, but when they fail, they need to feel ashamed of themselves, and vow to not do that again.

    And then they have to go save the World, beat the cr*p out of the Bad Guy (or Gal). And to be the better for it internally, whatever the cost or benefit otherwise.

    When I write, I boot one of those imaginary people out of my head and onto paper/electrons and tell him to go get’em. Your turn to be the hero.

      1. Heh. I have minor characters who announce, “I’n the secondary protagonist and I’m marrying the MC. Deal.” And most recently, “Yeah, my grandson is a major-minor character, but I get a novel. Oh? You had other plans? Ach, Schade, Fraulein, because you’re writing about me and the Eastern Front of WWI. Novel length.”

        1. Oh yeah. Mine do that too. I have an alternate history about a third of the way through — not sure if I’ll go back to it or not. — where a character who was supposed to be not only a minor character but who was also to die pretty quickly not only refused to die but insisted on becoming one of the major characters. That was the first time that particular “alteration” occurred and might be one of the reasons why the book is sitting in a desk drawer while I figure out what, if anything, to do about it.

          1. I have a “walk on” character that not only refused to go away, he convinced me his back story was interesting enough to write. Egads! _Where_ did that family of no-good lazy bums come from?

  7. Why do I read, write and arithmetic?

    Whenever I go a long enough period without both reading and writing, I tend to end up less happy and more dysfunctional until I pick things up again. I wouldn’t respect myself if I didn’t work out the numbers where I have a relevant problem and it is convenient.

    I think the future is in large part composed of stuff that is fairly similar to what has happened before.

    Should? I dunno about should. I don’t have a solid enough grasp of the business to be dictating to the actors involved, even if I philosophically thought it was anything other than a bad idea.

    1. I think a lot of us are that way to a certain extent. If we don’t write, we eventually pay for it emotionally. Some of us can harness that for a while and not let it interfere but the time comes when we have to finally admit that, yes, we’re writers and that means we have to write.

  8. I *need* a creative outlet. For many years, computer programming and business provided it. I never stopped wanting to write, just didn’t have time/resources to do it. My “style” is more am in between. I know the start point, and _maybe_ the end, but not the rest. My first fiction pub., was “dictated” to me by a major character. She’d give me parts just before I went to sleep, and then wrote it in bursts. Being in a Nursing Home, makes finding time to do much hard. They control meals, bathing, etc. I’m slowly exiting out of commitments/plans from before, but it’s _slow_.

    1. Walter, that is what’s happening with the current book I’m working on. I was talking to Kate about it night before last and told her how I’m not being let in on what’s happening until I read the words on the page. Part of me likes it because those books are usually the better ones but part of me hates it because I have no control. Good luck with your work and I hope you find the time you need for it.

  9. I write because I want to go to the worlds Heinlein and others showed me when I was a kid. I want to know people who achieve things, even if they aren’t in charge of everybody else. I want to know people who want real, serious wants. I want to see people overcome problems and get us into space. I want to go to the stars, and I don’t know that will happen in my life, even the moon.
    Also, I like words.

  10. I write because it’s a more coherent way to tell the stories in my head. They come to me whether I search for them or not, they’re very “loud”, and if they’re not written down, they’re not in the right order and my brain will be consumed trying to rearrange them logically. If I write them down, even just a quick overview of what I “know” of the story so far, they behave better and will go quiet or at least quiet enough that I can think of other things.

    If I don’t have a creative outlet, my mental health suffers. I feel lonely, depressed, and am quicker to take offense. Considering I don’t think of myself someone who is lonely, depressed, or sensitive, it becomes clear that being creative is necessary to me.

    Writing takes priority over my art or crafts because it’s more insistent. When I’m drawing, I usually have some sort of interior running stream of words going on about the thing I’m drawing – and those words are usually some sort of story. People have often remarked that they liked my art because it seemed to be telling a story. And, hell, I only even learned to draw in the first place to draw more attention to my writing, back when I was writing fanfiction as a teenager.

    I’m not sure I can answer the second half of the question, because I’m not entirely sure that my interpretation of the question is correct. xD;

  11. I write to make room for other ideas, although the characters keep coming back to me wanting to do more. (Aniti from Kiwi is starting to make noises about a prequel “How do you solve a problem like Aniti”.) Although sometimes I worry that really I come up with scenes and situations, but not a STORY per-se. And that I’m not ready to handle a novel-length project.

Comments are closed.