Say you’re an enlightened sod, and you’ve got the need to write. You’re filled with a burning passion for the written word, and you want to craft a tale or two. You think of your favorite authors, remember how they made you feel, and think, well, wouldn’t it be nice if I made somebody else feel the same way with me own stuff? And some cash would be nice too, and some fame while I’m at it. A little vindication for all the effort that I’m going to pour into this endeavor, the hours and toil and sweat and despair that comes with it.
But then you go out and do some browsing and learn that getting published is really, really hard. Unlikely, almost. Very. What’s more, even if you do get published, the odds of making money from it and becoming famous are ridiculously small. So the wise author quickly scraps money and fame as motivation. You’re left with wanting to make people feel intensely when they read your stuff, to reach out and touch lives. To become a hero!
But then… well. Look at Van Gogh. Told he was crap his hold life, cut off his ear, died broke and depressed. How many brilliant artists have died that way? Feeling like they were failures? (not that you’ll rank with the geniuses, but one can learn from their examples…) It’s not just fame, but appreciation that’s hard to get. I mean, some might achieve it, but you can’t base your career on it, can you? You need to have integrity, to do it despite criticism, to be true to your art even if you’re told you’re utter crap. Got to be ready to face the headwind and not squint too much, lest you lose sight of your goals.
So, what are we left with? Not money or fame, nor the desire to impress and affect people. Not if you’re for realzies, if you’re serious about your calling. You’re forced to turn inside, aren’t you, to seek your motivation from within. When all is said and done, you’ve got to write for yourself, looks like. You’ve got to write because you need to express yourself, show the world how you see it, and if nobody cares, well, bollocks to them.
Look at old J.D. Salinger. He’s been writing for decades now, doesn’t plan to publish a thing. Told the world to fuck off, and each book he finishes he places in his safe. Writing purely for himself.
Now, is he just a miserable old codger, or is he on to something? Has he grasped some fundamental truth? Just how happy is he, stockpiling those books? He’s not doing it for fame, fortune, appreciation or anything from the exterior–he’s become purely selfish about it. Acknowledged that it’s a fool’s game to try to impress the world, and just stopped trying.
But that doesn’t feel right, either. Reductio ad absurdam. So why write? Why bother?
I guess, in the end, if you’re blessed and cursed with really being a writer, it’s because you simply don’t have a choice.