When The Gallop Takes Over

For the past couple weeks the Deadline Dames have been blogging about How We Got Published. We’ve had:

* Dame Devon: How I Got To Where I Am
* Dame Jackie: My Path To Publication
* Dame Rachel: The Echo Of My Own Voice
* Dame Keri: The Long Road To Publication
* Yours truly: The Rocky Road
* Dame Jenna: An Overnight Success
* Dame Kaz: Dark Nights and Brighter Days
* Dame Toni: A Business Analyst Becomes A Novelist

There’s a lot of good stuff there, and frankly I don’t have much to add. Earning a living through writing is a chancy proposition, and certainly not one I’d recommend unless one has near-pathological persistence and a taste for punishment, as well as tolerance for manic-depressive career swings. (I’m only exaggerating slightly here, if at all.)

So why do it? Why on earth would anyone pick this way to make a living?

I can’t speak for anyone else. Why do I do this, then?

I’ve always loved writing. No, that’s not quite accurate. I have always written, ever since I can remember, and sometimes I love it. More often, I write because I am in the habit of writing and I am unable to stop. I compare my urge to write to a socially-acceptable mental disease, and I am only half joking. I am compelled to write, and extraordinarily uncomfortable when I do not write.

Writing is how I’ve chosen to make sense of the world for years now. Writing was my sanity during my childhood and difficult adolescence, my most trusted friend in young adulthood and my faithful ally now. Writing was and is my constant companion, the way I chose to sharpen my skills of observation and expression, the thing that made me feel sane when the world was falling apart. (Or if not sane, then, at least, marginally more able to cope. I’ll take what I can get.)

I write because it feels good. I write because it helps me make sense of the world. I write because there is a pressure inside me, and the writing bleeds that pressure off. I get paid for writing, true–but that’s merely a recent development. My writing life has spanned a good twenty-five years, and it’s only in the last four or so that it’s paid enough to be considered a decent living.

Don’t get me wrong. I love making a living from writing. To be able to make a living from the thing that makes me feel most alive is a gift I will always be grateful for, and one I intend to hang onto for as long as people will read the stories I spin. As Louisa May Alcott once said, I have taken Fate by the throat and I intend to shake a living out of the bitch. I am determined that if my career goes south, it will not be because I’ve given up. It will not be because I’ve stopped trying.

But.

I am going to be writing as long as my body and mind permit such an activity, whether I am paid or not. I cannot not write. I literally don’t feel right if a day happens along that I don’t write. I can only think of a handful of days in the past decade when I haven’t been able to write, and most of that handful have diary entries to mark them, so I’m not sure they count. Writing is just what I do, and if it is an addiction I don’t particularly mind. I don’t know what might happen anymore when I don’t write, simply because any attempt I make not to write during a day results in extremely uncomfortable tension. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it anguish, even.

So, I write because I must. I have grown accustomed to it, it seems, much as I’ve grown accustomed to caffeine.

Yet I also write to please myself. I listen to editors who help me make a book better and I listen to Readers and reviewers, of course. But when it comes right down to it, you have to get something out of the hours a day you sit, day after day, and pour out the words to make a novel. If you’re not getting some pleasure or enjoyment out of the process, it’s not going to end well. When all is said and done, I revise to please my readers, of whatever stripe they be.

I write, I create, solely for my own pleasure. And what a marvelous pleasure it is.

When I was about twelve, I got a set of Mary O’Hara books–the Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming novels. (Curiously, though, I have never read My Friend Flicka.) Thunderhead was a magnificently ugly white horse, and he could run. He didn’t care if it was on a racetrack or with the herd. When he decided to, something would go off inside him, and he would shift into a curious, floating gallop and leave everyone else in the dust.

This made quite an impression on me. Because every day, when I am writing, I feel like I’m doing the thing I was made for. I feel like Thunderhead probably felt when the explosion happened inside him and the gallop took over. Making a living from writing is damn fine, and I don’t ever intend to stop. I’ll do it as long as the Readers let me. Still, like Thunderhead, I don’t care if I’m at the racetrack or a city street, a meadow or a canyon or the surface of the moon. Every day, that explosion goes off inside me…

…and I write. I really can’t see doing anything else.

For what it’s worth, that’s the clearest explanation I can give of why I do what I do. Your mileage may vary. The world is an odd place, and we are forced to make sense of it in whatever way we can. Mine is with words.

What’s yours?

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