Friday, July 23, 2010

Hallinan on Writing for the Same Reasons as Stephen King

Timothy Hallinan, author of Breathing Water, concludes on his blog that both he and Stephen King write for reasons that have nothing to do with money. Excerpts:
Stephen King and I have something in common. Neither of us writes for money.

Of course we have different reasons for not writing for money. Stephen King doesn't write for money because he doesn't need any. He's already made approximately 23% of all the money in the world. I don't write for money because I don't earn any. ...

The question, of course, is why write? Why write if you're like Stephen, to whom more money is just added weight? Why write if you're like me, and money seems to avoid the sections of the shelves on which your books sit?

I think he and I write for the same two reasons. First, because we can't not write. It's what we do. And second, because we both want to get better. I think both Stephen King (whom I've never met) and I write to get better. I think, really, that's why most writers write. They know the only way to get better is to write.
Read the whole thing. Last week as I was trekking up a mountain in North Carolina, I found myself discussing the nature of creativity with a college-aged family friend. He was saying how he on principle avoided works that were too commercial in favor of more experimental, independent efforts. I countered that there wasn't necessarily an inverse relationship between the quality of an artist's output and its popularity. After all, everyone writes (or paints or clicks the shutter release or plucks his ukulele) with the goal of having others as his audience. And like Hallinan says here, though a project may only be known to ourselves and the inside of a filing cabinet, we're still writing it to improve, to sharpen our skills, to reach a level where we will delight readers all the more. We don't write out of some esoteric sense of artist worship, creating increasingly rarified and obscure compositions for ourselves alone. We don't write solely for digits in a checkbook, which we all know are easier to come by through exertions not involving a pad and pen. At a very basic level, we write because we want other eyes on what we've made -- even if only a few of them.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Robert D Bruce)

6 comments:

Deka Black said...

Myself write, weell, sounds stereotypic, but in mi case is true: I need give life to the characters i made in my mind. I wrote for fun, also. And to tell the truth, i hope publish in a future. Self-publishing or in a press, i don't know, one thing at time. And the first thing is make a proper work.

If this give me money, i will not complain. Oh, and one last thing. i write also to relieve (is the word?) stress. Is relaxing and cheaper than a doctor!

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

This is a really great post. I'm happy I read it today! I kind of talked about this on The Literary Lab yesterday, but you sum things up much more nicely here. I do write to get better. I never thought of it that way, but I've always known it. If I don't keep writing, I will never improve! And I want eyes on what's improving, that's for sure. :)

Ben-M said...

Funnily enough, I can't say I set out to write to improve. I'd rather conclude that I improve when I write. I will agree that I want other eyes on what I've made, but I think I know why: Because I write when I have something to say.

What vaguely worries me is the allure of writing for volume as opposed to writing for theme, irrespective of quality. I could write to a formula very easily and I'm sure many formula writers sell in quantity so as to pay their bills. But the notion of churning out content that fits a formula and simply caters to an audience's thirst for murder, explosions or love affairs fills me with a kind of dread. Irrespective of quality such structure, being devoid of personal meaning would become just like my day job in information technology: vapid and soulless.

Loren Eaton said...

Deka,

I don't think I'd complain either if writing gave me money! Official note to all publications: I will not protest if you shower me with lucre. You have been notified.

Loren Eaton said...

Michelle,

Actually, I tried to work your post into this one, but couldn't quite find a way to make it fit. It's a good post everyone. Give it a read.

Loren Eaton said...

Ben,

Have you ever read Neil Gaiman's "A Writer's Prayer"? There's a great audio version up at Last.fm. He really addresses the divide between over- and under-writing.