Loretta Asks Why

           
     Solo_spotlight_barbie The way I do my job (inefficiently) leaves very little time for TV.  The last thing I want to do most evenings, after hours of staring at a computer screen, is look at any other screen.  And TV, by and large, is pretty awful.  Still, it doesn’t require any thinking, so it can be a great relaxer, and I do relax my brain on Friday nights, when my mate is elsewhere and the remote control is mine, mine, mine.
      This week, though, I had a little additional time to sit stupefied in front of the TV screen, and managed to catch a bit of the Actor’s Studio, a show that seems to be fairly popular with writers, among others.  The reasons for this seem obvious to me.  Actors become characters.  The process of becoming, of getting inside a character’s head, of finding his/her center and soul, is bound to fascinate those of us who spend most of the writing day doing precisely this.
      Funnily enough, the topic that got me thinking wasn’t about characterization.
      Dustin Hoffman was on the stage, and one of the segments I caught was about an interaction with Lawrence Olivier when they two were working on Marathon Man.  They were dining together when Mr. Hoffman asked the great actor, “Why?  Why do we do it?”  Sir Lawrence stood up, leaned across the table, getting in his face and said, “Look at me.  Look at me.  Look at me.”
      And I thought, yes, this is also one reason writers write.  George Orwell had a similar take on it.  He maintained that the writer is “driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.  For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.”
      This is a good reason, though not the only one.
      I realized long ago, before I’d even completed a novel, that writing is a way of asserting control.  The real world is chaos.  On the page, though, the writer makes order.  The writer is a divinity, the beginning and end of all things.  It’s good to be queen of the world.  And yes, queens do get attention.  Well, some of them do, anyway.
      Writing, I ought to point out, is also among the top ten get-rich-slow schemes.
      Here are some interesting statistics from the Wall Street Journal of 29 August 2006:  “About 80% of the 1.2 million books tracked by Nielson BookScan in 2004 sold fewer than 99 copies and only 2% sold 5,000 or more copies.  The average book sells 500 copies.”
      Ah, yes, but the average aspiring author isn’t aware of these nasty facts of life.  I certainly wasn’t.  I imagined that once my first book was published, fame and fortune would follow as naturally and swiftly as winter follows summer in New England (which is often on the same day).  Not that knowing the truth would have stopped me.  I was writing fiction and poetry in the third grade, if not sooner, so there was not a lot of reasoning going on, or meditating, “Why?”  I tried other things, as did the other Wenches (see frightening picture of me as a meter maid in Archives). I had jobs that offered a regular paycheck and benefits.  But in the end, the drive to be queen of a fictional world overcame all.
      Samuel Johnson said, “Sir, no man but a blockhead every wrote except for money.”  And Mark Twain seconded that opinion:  “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.”
      Ooh.  Harsh.
      But the writing life, like so many creative professions, is harsh.  The average writer is in the same position as the average actor.  Success is the exception.  Those who can earn a living at these professions are in the infinitesimally small minority.
      So, some might be inclined to ask “Why?”  I even understood the irritating young woman who wasn’t satisfied with the Lawrence Olivier answer, and asked Mr. Hoffman “Why?”  I think she wanted a more profound answer, maybe something about understanding human nature, or bringing enlightenment to the benighted or something Really Important.
      I missed Mr. Hoffman’s answer.  But I did catch the part when he said if he hadn’t got the big break he would still be doing it, in one way or another.
      So maybe we do it because it’s simply part of who we are, part of the internal wiring?
      What do you think?

24 thoughts on “Loretta Asks Why”

  1. Loretta, what a wonderful post. ‘Why’ is such a cathartic word. Invokes depth and freedom of purpose, for me. I ask myself why I write almost every day (often banging head on keyboard after putting in 9+ hours of work)
    I’ve tried to stop writing so many times. The last time I tried, and boy did I try, I found my mother on my door step, my hero in my dreams and Mary Jo in my email box. Needless to say, with encouragement like that, one dare not stop.
    I do love writing. Most of the time. Truth be told, I do it because I have to. Because my characters believe in me and my power to tell their story. Although they are none to happy about the 500 book stat. And the littlest wenchling just stomped off crying. I think she was hoping for fame, fortune and new ribbons for her pigtails.
    Yet still, I write. And learn. And study. And rewrite. And thank God every day for my family, my characters, Sherrie and the Word Wenches. Without whom, none of it would be possible.
    Someday, I will be published. It just may be post-mortem.
    Nina, who is at heart, a control freak with little control.

    Reply
  2. Loretta, what a wonderful post. ‘Why’ is such a cathartic word. Invokes depth and freedom of purpose, for me. I ask myself why I write almost every day (often banging head on keyboard after putting in 9+ hours of work)
    I’ve tried to stop writing so many times. The last time I tried, and boy did I try, I found my mother on my door step, my hero in my dreams and Mary Jo in my email box. Needless to say, with encouragement like that, one dare not stop.
    I do love writing. Most of the time. Truth be told, I do it because I have to. Because my characters believe in me and my power to tell their story. Although they are none to happy about the 500 book stat. And the littlest wenchling just stomped off crying. I think she was hoping for fame, fortune and new ribbons for her pigtails.
    Yet still, I write. And learn. And study. And rewrite. And thank God every day for my family, my characters, Sherrie and the Word Wenches. Without whom, none of it would be possible.
    Someday, I will be published. It just may be post-mortem.
    Nina, who is at heart, a control freak with little control.

    Reply
  3. Loretta, what a wonderful post. ‘Why’ is such a cathartic word. Invokes depth and freedom of purpose, for me. I ask myself why I write almost every day (often banging head on keyboard after putting in 9+ hours of work)
    I’ve tried to stop writing so many times. The last time I tried, and boy did I try, I found my mother on my door step, my hero in my dreams and Mary Jo in my email box. Needless to say, with encouragement like that, one dare not stop.
    I do love writing. Most of the time. Truth be told, I do it because I have to. Because my characters believe in me and my power to tell their story. Although they are none to happy about the 500 book stat. And the littlest wenchling just stomped off crying. I think she was hoping for fame, fortune and new ribbons for her pigtails.
    Yet still, I write. And learn. And study. And rewrite. And thank God every day for my family, my characters, Sherrie and the Word Wenches. Without whom, none of it would be possible.
    Someday, I will be published. It just may be post-mortem.
    Nina, who is at heart, a control freak with little control.

    Reply
  4. I think it’s the brain wiring, Loretta. Though it isn’t necessarily wiring that insists on writing things down and getting published. I was always a day dreamer, spinning whole sagas with multiple characters in my head, but it wasn’t until I got a computer and could fix my mistakes that I started seriously writing.
    I figure I would have been up for maybe two finished but unsold manuscripts before I’d’ve given writing up and gone back to day dreaming. Instead, I sold the first book (luckily my expectations of fame and fortune were very, very low :)) and made a career change as fast as I could. After 20 years, I am totally unfit for a career other than writing. But if I retired or can’t sell any more books–it’s back to day dreaming. So much less work than writing actual books! And the stories still flow.
    BTW, that was a fascinating comment about ballerinas and not raising arms.
    Mary Jo, admitting that it’s nice to be the Goddess in one’s own personal universe

    Reply
  5. I think it’s the brain wiring, Loretta. Though it isn’t necessarily wiring that insists on writing things down and getting published. I was always a day dreamer, spinning whole sagas with multiple characters in my head, but it wasn’t until I got a computer and could fix my mistakes that I started seriously writing.
    I figure I would have been up for maybe two finished but unsold manuscripts before I’d’ve given writing up and gone back to day dreaming. Instead, I sold the first book (luckily my expectations of fame and fortune were very, very low :)) and made a career change as fast as I could. After 20 years, I am totally unfit for a career other than writing. But if I retired or can’t sell any more books–it’s back to day dreaming. So much less work than writing actual books! And the stories still flow.
    BTW, that was a fascinating comment about ballerinas and not raising arms.
    Mary Jo, admitting that it’s nice to be the Goddess in one’s own personal universe

    Reply
  6. I think it’s the brain wiring, Loretta. Though it isn’t necessarily wiring that insists on writing things down and getting published. I was always a day dreamer, spinning whole sagas with multiple characters in my head, but it wasn’t until I got a computer and could fix my mistakes that I started seriously writing.
    I figure I would have been up for maybe two finished but unsold manuscripts before I’d’ve given writing up and gone back to day dreaming. Instead, I sold the first book (luckily my expectations of fame and fortune were very, very low :)) and made a career change as fast as I could. After 20 years, I am totally unfit for a career other than writing. But if I retired or can’t sell any more books–it’s back to day dreaming. So much less work than writing actual books! And the stories still flow.
    BTW, that was a fascinating comment about ballerinas and not raising arms.
    Mary Jo, admitting that it’s nice to be the Goddess in one’s own personal universe

    Reply
  7. I told the story earlier in this blog about Madeleine L’Engle vowing to give up writing after a MS. failed to sell for ten years–only to find herself plotting in her head a story about a writer who vowed to give up writing…
    (The book was A WRINKLE IN TIME, btw.)
    I wonder if I’d be a more prolific writer myself if I’ve gotten encouragement instead of having people making me feel they were doing me a favor by reading my stuff.

    Reply
  8. I told the story earlier in this blog about Madeleine L’Engle vowing to give up writing after a MS. failed to sell for ten years–only to find herself plotting in her head a story about a writer who vowed to give up writing…
    (The book was A WRINKLE IN TIME, btw.)
    I wonder if I’d be a more prolific writer myself if I’ve gotten encouragement instead of having people making me feel they were doing me a favor by reading my stuff.

    Reply
  9. I told the story earlier in this blog about Madeleine L’Engle vowing to give up writing after a MS. failed to sell for ten years–only to find herself plotting in her head a story about a writer who vowed to give up writing…
    (The book was A WRINKLE IN TIME, btw.)
    I wonder if I’d be a more prolific writer myself if I’ve gotten encouragement instead of having people making me feel they were doing me a favor by reading my stuff.

    Reply

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