When last we saw our intrepid author, she was wading into the Slog, the great morass of storytelling, character development, and worldbuilding that stretched to the imaginative horizon, keeping her from her ambitions. Armed only with a keyboard, a thesaurus, and her wits, she strode forth, prepared to face down the horrors which, according to legend, resided in this creative fen: the Minotaur of Narrative lying in wait at the end of a plotting cul-de-sac; the Hydra of Flat Prose that stalks her, looming over every passage, threatening to poison her tale with its noisome breath; the Charybdis of Datadump into which she might fall at any moment, never to be heard from again; and, of course, the dreaded Chimera of Incoherence, which constantly menaces her work, its fiery breath burning narrative bridges right and left. It is hard, dangerous work, and it’s a wonder that even risks the fen in the first place.
Truly, it is a wonder. This post is not so much a “How-To” piece as it is a “Why-do-we-do-this?” post. All kidding aside, this is hard work. It’s discouraging, frustrating, maddening. Getting published at all is incredibly difficult; making a living at it is, for all but a few, next to impossible; making a fortune at it is nothing short of miraculous. It would be so easy simply to give up. Especially now, at the place where we are now in our “Writing Your Book” series. We’re in that vast middle we talked about last week, the slog, I called it. If ever there was a point in the process that would lead people just to chuck it, this is it. Here at MW, we often fall back on the truism that we write because we love it, and that’s great. But at this stage in the process it would be easy to call upon the wisdom of that great American philosopher, Keb Mo’, who said “That’s not love/Love don’t feel that bad…”
So, why bother?
Last night, my family and I went to see a University production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a fine production — great costumes, sparse but effective sets and lighting, good acting; even the original music composed for the play worked well. But these were secondary. The writing was all. The interwoven narratives, the poetry, the humor; the mere fact that at four hundred fifteen years old, it still makes us laugh, it still speaks to us of love and friendship, rivalry and envy. [For A.J.’s sake, I will make no mention of the universality of the human condition, but I’m thinking about it….]
Now, I’m no Shakespeare. No one knows that better than I do; and, forgive me for saying so, but you’re probably not Shakespeare reincarnate either. That’s okay. We don’t have to be in order for me to make my point. We are writers. This is what we do. Sometimes we do it because we love it. Sometimes we do it because not doing it is simply unthinkable. Sometimes we do it because we’ve started, and we refuse to quit and so the only thing to do is keep moving forward. Maybe, like A.J., we simply love the written word. Maybe, we’re driven by a story or a character or a world that we can’t get out of our heads. Every one of these is a valid response to “Why bother?”
But there’s a larger reason, too. We might not be Shakespeare, but we’re not completely divorced from him either. Like him, we are storytellers. We are part of a tradition that is as old as humanity itself. I’ve been reading Shakespeare for years. I’ve been reading Poe, Hawthorne, and Dickens; Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck; Stegner, Proulx, and Winton. I’ve also been reading Tolkien and Card and Kay. All of them have shaped my work, my style, my process. I don’t think that anyone will be reading my books four hundred and fifteen years from now (although it would be cool if they were). I’m not even sure anyone will be reading them a century from now. But people are reading them now, and will be for years to come.
And maybe some of them will wind up writing, too. Just as I have had stories handed to me over the years that I have then folded into my creative process, maybe they will add my stories to their imaginative mix. And so that narrative tradition will flow on, in part through my work, and through yours, too. We are part of something much larger than the one book with which we happen to be struggling right now. Without thinking ourselves the equal of Shakespeare, or of Hawthorne or Faulkner or Proulx, we can still feel a connection to them.
That’s what I felt last night as I listened to the last lines of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’d struggled much of the day with rewrites and proofs. When I went to the play I was angry and frustrated and exhausted. I left exhilarated, even proud.
I’m a writer. And that’s why I bother.And as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name. — Act V, scene i
David B. Coe http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net