It’s a question writers ask throughout their careers. While it is one, I suspect, most frequently posed (yelled, sighed) at the beginning, even the best have been known to lament. Richard Flanagan, for example, nearly quit writing to be a miner. 2013 and he was broke. A professional novelist for many decades, and one of Australia’s finest, he still couldn’t make enough from his writing (fortunately, he finished A Narrow Road to the Deep North and won the Man Booker Prize).

It’s a question I’ve been asking recently. Dry spell, seven months, no short story sales, bar one recently to the excellent Interzone. Novel rejected a dozen times – my agent has it out at ten more, but I’ve come to accept unsold manuscripts are the norm, and mine could be yet another lost in the cold hard vacuum of not-what-we’re-looking-for-right-now.

Eighty-thousand words and eighteen months of my life, and it may never see the light of day. Why the fuck am I doing this?

Forty-six thousand words into the next novel, set in the same world as the first. Writing it in between the spaces of a PhD, parenting a five-year-old and one-year-old, and a contract job at uni. Every spare second spent on the damn thing, and I don’t have many spare seconds. Why the fuck am I doing this?

One million new novels released, ever year, in the United States alone. The hordes of aspiring writers, the endless slush piles of indifferent publications, trying to be heard over the hard white noise of perhaps the most competitive industry on Earth. Why the fuck am I doing this?

Not for the money. There isn’t any in the business, anymore. Not for some thin sliver of fame, which I wouldn’t want anyway. And even if I did, successful authors now have to deal with the mobs of intellectual McMuffins raining down outrage on any perceived variance from their favoured political line.

The answer lies in a Patrick Rothfuss interview I heard some years back, and think back on from time to time. He says:

I remember sitting down once, [at] three in the morning and probably the only person awake in Stevens Point […] *imitates typing with his fingers* And I stop, and I think: “This is crap! I’ve spent years of my life writing crap. This will never be published – it isn’t good… I’ve wasted years of my life!” *shrugs and types on* You do it because you like the process. I mean… you write because you like to write.

Yeah. That’s why. I like to write. I feel bad when a day goes by and I don’t. When I have a short story idea, it gnaws at me until I get it out into the world. I do feel better when I submit a story, great if it gets accepted. But that satisfaction is fleeting, and the gnawing starts again. The need to get words on a page, to manifest them in the world, well, it is a need.

I’m not trying to showcase my special-ness here, not trying to wax lyrical on one’s calling in life. Callings, like love, can happen more than once. My first calling was aid work, which I devoted myself to for a decade, and which I will find a way to keep doing in the future. Now my calling is writing. I suppose I might have one or two more callings up my sleeve. If NASA opens a special recruitment stream for middle-aged science fiction writers from Australia, for example.

I’m doing this because I enjoy it, because it exorcises all those voices in my head, because a well-crafted sentence is a thing of beauty.

I’m no Flanagan or Rothfuss, unfortunately, but that really isn’t the point. I write because I possess a particular madness – just another type of madness, in world that already has its fair share.


Back to this damn novel, I guess.

Categories: Fiction

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