A recent conversation got me thinking about all the different things that go into being a writer: motivation, passions and interests. Big topic, short blog, here goes:
I came up with the idea there are three types, two pretty obvious and one, to my mind, much less so. Probably the most obvious are the ‘selfish’ – they’re wrapped up with you own opinion of yourself. Others are more to do with your imagination and intellect – what fascinates you, and finally there are also things that concern how you relate to other people.
It’s a great idea, obviously it must be, I thought of it! Exactly. You need an ego to be a writer, not only to take the rejections and cope with your own mistakes and failings but simply to believe other people will be interested in what you write. As has been said many times writing is not necessarily an easy life but to be good at anything you need to work hard, no different from any other self-appointed task nobody asked you to do. You need an ego with a marathon runner’s stamina to keep going and you’ll also need the self confidence to manipulate words and shape them to your will. And you’ll need to believe you’re good enough, or at least have something that strangers will like, people who might very well wish to be informed or entertained, or make a living from words, but not necessarily by yours. These inner urges I’ll call reasons of the self.
Then there are the things that drive you to put finger to keyboard: your sheer love of writing, the pleasure of spinning a story, weaving characters, new worlds and places, the sheer joy of invention. You might also have a burning urge to write about certain things, urgencies that drive you from personal experience, ideology, discovery of obscure events and people you find vital and fascinating. Or it might simply be a desire to entertain, the only thing you thought you were any good at, the only thing you ever wanted to do. You could call these reasons of the mind.
Personally, it’s hard to say which of these two come first, it seems to me one begets and informs the other, ego and intellect. You need something from both of these sets (though to shoot the whole thing in the head I know at least one person who loves to write but isn’t worried about being published). Then there’s that third thing, and this was the one that really interested me because it’s not something I’ve heard talked about anywhere near as much as the others.
When you write you write for two groups of people– yourself and your audience. Obviously you’re deeply interested in yourself, your condition and ideas – it’s a given. Back in that conversation I came to realise that you have to be interested – even fascinated – in other people: what they do, why they do it and most importantly how they feel about it. This all needs to go beyond simply developing observational skills, you need to not so much get under as get behind their skins to look out at the world through their eyes and see it and feel it from their point of view, understand why they did what they did and what drove them. Then you’ll understand how you might feel about it too.
Why should you want to do this? So you can do the same for your characters, make them real, make them bleed and weep, cry out in rage and ecstasy. If you don’t care that much about other people, if your basic nature is solipsistic, if you lack any real urge to know why they are who they are, you won’t be as good a writer as you could be. Obvious, really.
Conclusion: Must try harder.