What’s the reason you choose to write? Are you seeking fame and fortune? (good luck with that). Do you have a burning need to share your musings with others? Do you want to make the world a better place, or is writing a safety valve for thoughts and emotions that have no other outlet?
For me its a combination of the last two. I write because it allows me to at least feel like I’m making a small difference. It’s one of the few ways I feel like I have a voice in these crazy times when the lunatics have taken over the asylum and society’s foundations are crumbling.
Reading the news is an exercise in despair, so I turn to writing to release my anger and fear about what’s happening out there. By channeling it into my fiction I have an illusion of power, because let’s face it, writers are control freaks at heart. That’s why we create worlds where we get to make all the rules and play God.
My hope is that my finished book will have some impact, because isn’t that the point of writing? Don’t we all want to make a difference, even if it’s only a tiny one?
The Weight of Heavy Intention
I thought all writers felt this way, which is why I was surprised to read about Elizabeth Gilbert’s views on the subject. In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Gilbert argues that writing should be seen an end in itself, and the desire to help people is a burden on the reader:
You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.
I appreciate her argument, but question whether it’s possible (or desirable) to write this way. I’ve tried to write without thinking about how my book is going to be received and even given this advice to others, but I can only sustain the ‘joy of writing for writing’s sake’ for so long.
It may take the pressure off to think that what you’re writing is not important, but this is hardly going to motivate you to put in the grueling hours required to produce anything worthwhile. I would argue writers have to believe what we’re doing is important otherwise we would never find the stamina and resilience to keep going in the face of so much indifference and rejection.
Anger as Creative Fuel
There may be some who are happy to scribble in their journals for personal fulfillment, but serious writers want to be read and desire to make a difference. Rather than hampering creativity, this is what drives us, and it’s also what fuels brilliance. Many of the greatest literary works were inspired by anger over injustice and suffering. Think To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, Madam Bovary, The Kite Runner, Schindler’s List and this is just scratching the surface.
Fiction is all about conflict and its resolution, and authors are compelled to explore the things that bother them the most. To do this without wanting to bring about change is impossible. The best writers know how to distill their concerns into a gripping story rather than a political screed, because no one likes being preached to.
While most of us will never write anything truly earth-shaking it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help people and change the world through writing. Rather than hampering creativity, I believe passion and conviction are needed more than ever today. I hope more writers take up the challenge of writing about the urgent problems of our times, not just to entertain readers or make money, but to make an actual difference.