Why and for whom do we write? — by Peter Grant
Sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a single answer that covers all the bases. For a start, one’s genre has a major effect on why one writes.
- A non-fiction author writes to convey or impart knowledge in a particular field to those interested in acquiring it.
- A fiction author writes to entertain, and perhaps to convey an indirect moral or metaphysical message in his prose.
- An autobiography or memoir seeks to describe a life and what it meant to the person living it – but a biography, written by a third party, might view that same life very differently.
There are many other categories we could use, of course.
Then there’s the question of the author himself. Let me use myself as an example. I write primarily to make a living, as I described here some months ago. In that sense, I’m writing for me and for my wife. Is that a less worthy motivation than writing to please an audience? I don’t think so – I have to write to please my readers, because if I don’t, they won’t be my readers for long and my ‘living’ will die! However, there are doubtless those who will regard my motivation as overly mercenary.
What about a more artistic motive? There are those authors who say they feel compelled to write, to tell a story, to get out into the world the creativity bottled up inside them. I’ve always been ambivalent about such attitudes. I mean, can one really say that ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is in any way creative when it’s basically fanfic, riffing off the creativity of another author in what appears to me to be copycat fashion? On the other hand, writers who create their own new worlds or environments or platforms are genuinely creative, and inspire my admiration.
What about fact versus fiction? Again, to use myself as an example, I try to use my own life experiences as ‘building blocks’ in writing my science fiction. A combat scene I describe might be set in a futuristic milieu, using weapons and technology and surroundings that are all alien to our understanding at present, but the tactics and sequence of events will, whenever possible, be based on one or more encounters where I can legitimately say I’ve “been there and done that”. I think that helps to make my writing more realistic. Am I writing fiction when I’m basically regurgitating what I’ve experienced? I think I am. Others may differ.
What about our inspiration? I don’t do fairy stories very well – I’ve never been one for that sort of thing. On the other hand, I grew up on a diet of fairy stories, and seem to recall enjoying them immensely, pictures and all. Have they served as subliminal inspiration? I loathe most movies, and hardly ever go to the theater or watch one on TV – but some movies have been powerful influences in my life, and even helped me to come to terms with some very painful experiences. Can my writing possibly remain unaffected by such emotional encounters?
I don’t pretend to have the answers to all these questions. I’m still pondering them, and may never come to a fully worked-out understanding of them. Nevertheless, they interest me, and I hope they interest the writers and readers of Mad Genius Club. What do you think? Let us know your views in Comments.