Sunday, March 24, 2013

On Writing and Why I Write

I am a writer.
It's something I have been doing for a good many years.
If, as I heard in a writing class one time, you have to write a million words before you write good stuff I may qualify. It's for others to judge.
I have written short stories, newspaper articles, editorials, essays, contracts, letters, PowerPoint presentations, website content, blogs, one unpublished novel and even a few poems.
After a good number of years away from spending a lot of time writing fiction, and now at an advanced age, I am trying to reconnect with my tenuous roots in science fiction and the writing community at large. I am fighting demons of self-doubt and fears of inconsequence.
I had some minor success many years ago and published my first story in Analog Magazine when I was in graduate school. I became a member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) based on that publication. I remain a member to this day, proud to be among the names of writers I have read and enjoyed since I was a boy. My credentials may be insignificant in the grand scheme of the Universe, and even in the world of SFWA, but I still carry my two publications in Analog with pride.
Trying to reconnect with fellow SFWA members, writers and people in the science fiction community, I have been adding Facebook friends. I want to learn more about the community I belong to even if I am only on the outer fringes. And perhaps, with any luck and some good Karma, I will introduce myself to other writers; much like the camel that pokes his nose into the tent.
For the most part I have been accepted as a "friend" on facebook by all I have asked. I have also been accused of adding friends in order to increase my numbers and reach some nebulous goal of acquiring all the friends possible. It was also suggested that Facebook was not the route I should take to "promote" myself. While I would love to be better known, and I guess Facebook is a means of self-promotion, I have always believed that "promotion" came from someone else. You can expose yourself, but only others can validate your acceptance and give recognition to you and your work.
With my limited exposure over the years I have found most writers to be generous people. It stems, I think, from the fact writing is the loneliest job in the world. The difficulty of planting your ass in a chair with a blank piece of paper in front of you (or blank computer screen more likely these days) and creating a whole new universe cannot be fully understood by those who don't practice this form of self flagellation.
One prominent SFWA writer, who I am proud to call my friend, said writing is a mountain he has to climb every day.
Harlan Ellison, the well-known science fiction writer, once described the difference between an Author and a writer.  An Author, he said, writes for the fame and the glory. A writer writes because he has to.
There is something inside a writer that forces him or her to take that lonely journey each day. Some need or hunger or compulsion which drives them to put words on paper and hope against hope the end result will faithfully express the thoughts and feelings that crowd the writer's life.
I fought this hunger most of my life. I ignored the thing inside me that wanted me to tell stories. I knew there was little chance of actually making a living as a writer. One factoid from a college course said that in the United States at the time there were probably only ten people who made a full living from writing. It may be higher today, but I imagine the number is still infinitesimal in comparison to the whole population.
Even though I fought the urge to write, it would always catch up to me. If I stayed away for too long I started having dreams. My unconscious mind would tell me stories. I would have vivid dreams of situations and settings and plots. I could only stem these dreams when I at least made an abortive attempt to start writing again.
So, now, at age 69 I am starting out on this journey up the mountain again. I fear the journey. I despair I will ever make a significant contribution to the world of writing. A million distractions poke and prod at me every day. I can only move forward one step at a time, no matter how small the steps are.
And while most of the responses I have had to my reentry into the world of writing have been supportive, one prominent member of my community labeled me little better than a beginner.
Perhaps I am. Only others can judge. I point proudly to my SFWA membership and my limited publications, but only others can be the final judge.
I once heard that if you take an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters they would eventually recreate all the great literature in the world.
Me, I remain just another monkey with a typewriter; or in this case a computer keyboard.

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