“Writers are the most vain, self-absorbed, and self-important people on Earth. After all, what makes a writer think that anyone wants to hear what he has to say? Vanity, pure and simple.”
For the past several years, I’ve heard people say this in varying forms – both from writers and non-writers. Whenever I heard it, I disagreed wholeheartedly, but couldn’t articulate why. I mean, I’m a writer, but I don’t think I’m self-centered or vain. So are these people wrong, or am I deluding myself?
I had to know, so I started on an objective analysis of myself. Beginning with searching my soul for the answer to this question: why do I write?
My first answer was “because I have to.”
Well, why do I have to?
“Because if I don’t, I’ll go crazy. Then I’ll drive everyone around me crazy.”
Okay, but why would I go crazy?
“Because there are all these stories running around in my head, and if I don’t get them out, my brain will overload.”
Stories? Who’s stories are they? Mine, or someone else’s?
“Hmm, I’m not sure. I guess they could be mine, since they come from my head. But, really, they come from characters in my head. And the stories belong to them.”
But what do these characters have to do with it since I write the story? Doesn’t that make it mine?
“The story may start out as mine, but, by the time it’s finished, it’s not mine anymore. It belongs to the main character.”
But...I write the characters, and since I write what I know, aren’t the characters really me?
“Sort of. Some part of them come from me, but the rest comes from watching other people, imagining myself in their positions, and seeing the differences between us. The end result is a person who’s perhaps similar to me, but definitely not the same, who has her own story to tell.”
A-ha! I’d discovered that I really wasn’t setting out to make other people listen to me. I wanted them to listen to the main character. Then I frowned in puzzlement...why did I want people to listen to my characters? This question had me stumped for a long, long time.
Meanwhile, I had a conversation with a friend about music concerts, and which had been our favorites. She had seen some great bands who played some of her favorite music of all time. Yet, they weren’t her favorite concerts. Her favorite was Phil Collins. I was surprised, because she’d never been a die-hard fan. So I asked her why. And she said “because that man knows how to entertain!”
My mouth dropped open in amazement and I practically yelled “Oh! OH! I get it now!!” My writing wasn’t about me or my characters. It was about entertainment. I felt like such an idiot for not seeing it before.
There are stories running around in my head that I think others might enjoy. That’s what Phil Collins does – he doesn’t have to put on an entertaining show, but he does because he thinks his fans will enjoy it. Does that make him vain and self-absorbed? Nope. He just sees something in himself that he thinks others will enjoy. Rather than keeping it to himself, he shares it with us. And we enjoy it. I think this is what sets him apart from the wannabes and the blips (short-lived bands), and why he was around for so many years.
I think writers who never forget their readers are the ones who will be truly great, giving us amazing story after amazing story for years. But if you only focus within, you'll lose sight of your reader. And then who's going to read your work?
So, what are you? A wannabe? A blip? Or a writer?