I did a couple of book talks at area schools last month. At the one, a middle school, before I could even say a word about creative writing or my novels, a kid asked me, “So are you a millionaire?” which was so cute and funny and easily answered: “Not even close.” Later, another kid asked, “When’s your next book coming out?” This question made me laugh, too.
I don’t know when my next book will come out. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another book come out. In response to that question, I shrugged and added, “But I am working on a novel.”
I have to admit, it always feels exciting to be able to say, “I am working on a novel.” It gives me a jolt of pleasure, a zing of amazement. Look at me! Writing! A novel! What a marvelous endeavor, to undertake the creation of a small world and populate it with characters one cares about and fill it with joys and troubles.
Actually, I’ve been working on this particular novel for months. I’m almost done. A few days ago, I wrote a scene, an important scene, one I’d figured, almost from the onset, I’d need to write eventually. Not that I’m a plotter. But when I start writing, I have a good idea of what my main character desires and fears. I may not carry a map, but I sense where I need to go. This section I recently wrote—this scene I knew I needed to write—was one such destination.
Nevertheless, it unfolded differently than I thought it would. My main character said something I didn’t expect her to say. She realized something I didn’t plan for her to realize. She surprised me—in a way that felt right. I cried, writing that scene. When I returned to it the following morning, I cried again.
There are many reasons writers write—to confront, connect, escape, explore, and play. Creating that scene last week brought home two more reasons: to discover and to feel. Writing those pages unlocked my understanding, made me see something I didn’t know I knew. My/my character’s realization filled me/her with sorrow. We wept together.
I’m not sure if anybody else will reach that scene and cry along with my character, like I did, mainly because I’m not sure if anybody else will ever read this novel. Well, my husband will because he’s a sweetheart. And my agent probably will. But she may not like it. And if she does, the editors she sends it to might not share her enthusiasm.
Publication isn’t always (or frequently or sometimes or even occasionally) the end result of writing a novel. For this reason, let’s face it: To get published isn’t a great reason to write. And publishing to the extent that one earns thousands—let alone millions—of dollars is even less likely. To accrue wealth, then, is also a bad reason to write.
There’s no guarantee of recognition. No promise of money.
But surprises, epiphanies, and keenly felt feelings? Writing grants these liberally.
It’s hard to put a value on surprises, epiphanies, and keenly felt feelings, and I wouldn’t want to. Such writerly experiences are mysterious—creativity’s boon, the award of wonder and silence and reflection and words. They’re gifts.
I doubt my writing will ever make me wealthy. And yet writing has enrichened my life.
Rebecca Moon Ruark says
“keenly felt feelings”–yes, so much this! Do you ever feel like it’s easier to feel for your characters than for real people, because the suffering weight of this world is too great? Maybe it’s a preventive measure, but, for instance, I haven’t yet cried for the babies in Uvalde. But the other night I nearly cried for one of my characters–and this is revision #2, so it’s not a new scene. Maybe right now I can only handle the emotional ramifications of the little world I created in my own head? But it is good to feel deeply, to have those little epiphanies, and make those amazing connections, and see our intuitions at play. (Cannot imagine being a plotter, for that last item more than anything.) Thank you for this very thought-provoking piece, my friend. And keep them coming!
Melissa Ostrom says
Oh, Rebecca, I know just what you mean. “Suffering weight of the world is too great”: yes. I wonder, though, if, at least in part, we’re crying for this world when we’re weeping for our characters and channeling our griefs into the worlds we create and subsequently better control. I’ll have to mull this over some more! Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. You’re making me think, too! xoxo