It’s dusk, and all I can see is tattered, shredded dark clouds against the last dusty orange-pink of a sky paling into purple blackness, with the flat line of a dark sea and the silhouette of dark cape thrusting out into it, with a solitary point of light near the end of it.
Working, as I often do, late into the night, I wish they’d turn that blasted light off. On the other hand… I suppose they can see mine. It’s around five miles away, and either the blackness surrounding it or brightness of it make it visible across the distance. A mind like mine always turns wondering why it is burning? Maybe… something prosaic, like it’s an outside light they never turn off. Maybe… they’re city people, afraid of dark (yes, we had some city visitors, once (not twice) who found our remote rural dwelling too dark and too quiet for them to sleep. They were supposed to stay a few days, but they left the next morning). Maybe… it’s like the candle burning in the window for the sailor or wayfarer, who has never come home. Or maybe someone working odd hours… at what?
Questions. I’m not much good at accepting ‘it just is’. There’s a story behind every one of those questions. Not necessarily a good or interesting story… but hey, I am a writer of stories. I will think of multiple possibilities, and cheerfully embellish and make plausible (even if only to myself) the one (or several) that make it it more interesting to me.
But to take that from there into a book or even a short story, well, that’s a mountain. It doesn’t have to be, of course… but molehills are not particularly interesting. And you see, it has to be interesting, not just to me but to someone else, if I want them to read it, and indeed to pay money for it.
Which brings one around to ‘why climb that mountain?’ Because it is there? Because no one else has been up it? Because the view from the top is terrific? Because it is fun? Because I will find a treasure (even if it only myself) up there… or getting up there? Because people will see I have climbed it and be impressed? Because I am going to show everyone how to climb? Because fame and fortune will come to me because of it? Or maybe because that screaming bastard NCO made me? Or… I dunno. It seemed a good at the time.
I’ve – over the years had a lot of people have – on hearing that I write – inform me they have always thought about writing a book.
I’ve also had a more than a few tell me they have this great idea for a book, if I write it and we can share the profits. Implied is that 1)I have no ideas myself, or they are piss-poor ones 2)That the idea is the hard part, and being a writer is as easy as flatulence (if not always as smelly), 3) their idea is brilliant and, unlike my lousy ones, will make them a fortune without the expenditure of any further effort, 4) I should be eternally grateful this, considering their generosity.
My answer always disappoints them terribly: “You should write it then.” (and no, I won’t do it for you. I try to omit the part about ‘and your idea is a rehash of a thousand others’. Who knows: rehashed ideas sometimes make great books. A great writer can make old and trite seem quite wonderful. They might just be that great writer. But I will not write it for them.)
I always follow that up with ‘why do you want to write it?’ Yes: the mountain above (and many of the same reasons). Surprisingly few people seem to have thought about it, to judge by the double-take this often causes. The answers vary, of course. There’s a proportion who will tell you each of reasons I gave for the mountain – even a few ‘because that screaming bastard NCO made me.’ The NCO is either their muse or their debt. And yes. A lot of ‘I dunno’.
None of them are, per se, bad reasons for writing the book.
Whether they are good reasons for getting it read by other people, is another matter entirely. If you want to cast that into deeper and further doubt, whether people think it worth paying to read, is another matter.
Look, if writing a book is going provide you with a challenge and experience (`because it is there’), or you believe you will write something no one else has (or could do better – something many will believe). The view from the top is indeed quite something – not always terrific, but certainly revealing. It is an achievement, and it is quite hard work for many of us. You may find a treasure in it, even if that treasure is understanding yourself or dealing with your problems or past. Do I want to read about it? Do you want me to read about it? Do you think I ought to pay for your psychotherapy? (answer: I won’t unless it interests me).
Some of these, accidentally, produce books someone might want to read, maybe even great books we all love, but they’re not written for that purpose. It’s more luck than judgement if they do. It’s kind of like a diabetic syringe being just what you need for paint for your piece of artwork. That’s no reason not write, but is reason not expect anyone else to want to read it.
The second half of those reasons for climbing the mountain (barring ‘dunno’) all hav one common feature: they aren’t for your inner self, but depend on what OTHERS make of your feat. It’s not always easy to get wannabe to realize this point, or to even admit it exists. “I have a great message” (I am going to show people how they ought to climb mountains) kinda depends on readers wanting to see how you climb. If you bore them squitless they’re not going to read it, let alone pay for it. As one the radical feminist dahlings of the Ugo awards said… if she could sell a copy for every person who crowded in to be seen attending her panels on how terrible men were… she’d make a living. Buying books is pretty secret, and coffee-table books to impress… doesn’t really spread your ideas, or sell many copies.
Fame, fortune etc. all follow getting read, and people liking it so much they’ll spend money in a fashion where no one knows what they spend it on. They’re not displaying virtue, because by and large, the people they would display to, are as convinced by their claiming to have read whatever it is, than by their actually spending the money that would cover a bottle of wine.
Would-be writers are remarkably deluded (me too, once) about the commercial realities of writing for a living, and what is involved. Some of it, sadly, is luck. That’s why you’ll read a book and think ‘how the hell did they get published, let alone get to be a bestseller?’ Sometimes it is literally nothing more than ‘right time, right place.’ More often there is much more to that ‘success’ than meets your eye. They may just appeal to a large set of people with whom you have nothing much in common. They may have a large enough base from outside writing to get the ball rolling, and the momentum carries them to an even wider audience. They may be having sex with the publisher who pushed them in repayment. They may be well-connected… etc. And, what you are seeing may also be the culmination of a hell of a long slog – or a combination of all of the above.
Or you could stick to ‘I dunno. It seemed like a good idea at the time.’
And now I am half-way up I don’t know how to get down…