Why do we write?
Because of Frodo and Sam, but more on that in a minute.
What is it about writing that appeals so strongly to some of us? We have to know that most of us won’t reach the same level of success as Stephen King or Neil Gaiman. Yet, that doesn’t stop many of us. Despite the fact that I’m still a newcomer as far as the publishing industry is concerned—I don’t even have a proper agent yet—something about writing brings me back no matter how hard I try to move on to something more stable.
Writing isn’t your typical career. It’s arguably a form of entrepreneurship. We pour in a huge amount of time, energy, and often money up front with no promise of return. Unlike many new business endeavors, most of us don’t even really begin with much money at all, like trying to run a race without shoes. What bank will grant a loan to a starry-eyed dreamer on the basis of their passion for their unwritten novel alone?
Which is why we write in our free time, and why writing sometimes receives much less of our attention than we would like. We have to make a living in this moment, so we work jobs that we don’t love, sometimes settling for okay when we want best so badly.
This sucks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome these barriers. Part of my reasoning in writing this post was to cut right to the heart of the matter when it concerns our writing. This life is neither easy nor simple. One-hit wonders do happen, but they’re the exception rather than the norm. This journey is just that: a journey.
Now for Frodo and Sam.
I’m a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I could bring back J.R. Tolkien by selling off my inessential organs, well… Actually, let’s not go there. The Lord of the Rings is more than simply a fantasy tale. There are numerous breakdowns of the themes within it. Entertainment was certainly a goal of writing it, maybe even the primary one, but hidden within is a metaphor that has really amazing power.
What if, as many have suggested (see this absurdly funny animated short), the Fellowship had simply gotten the eagles to fly them to Mordor? Makes a weird sort of sense, but would we have been happy with that conclusion? Well, Tolkien wouldn’t have had to write three books, for one. Also, and I may be speaking only for myself, I would have certainly felt cheated as a reader and a viewer. Imagine:
Me: “Hey, let’s go to that new movie, The Lord of the Rings—the one with the volcano and the Dark Lord and stuff.”
Friend: “I don’t know… They say it’s not actually that good.”
Me: “Are you serious? It’s violence, monsters, and magic.”
Friend: “Fine, but you’re buying the tickets.”
15 minutes later: Buying tickets
5 minutes more: Gutting our wallets to pay for snacks sprinkled with gold dust
20 minutes further: Half a bag of popcorn later, but just now finishing the commercials
1 Hour later (total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes)
Friend: “They took eagles to Mordor? Really? All that build-up and they just…”
Me: “Let’s not talk about it.”
Friend: “You owe me. That was terrible.”
Me: “I already bought your ticket.”
Friend: “Not the money, the time. I’m never getting that back.”
As much as we want instant rewards for our efforts in our real-world lives, we seem to have an instinctive appreciation for the journey, and the lessons to be learned from it. We jokingly suggest that the outcome of our favorite story might have been reached in an easier way, but we know that it’s just not the same. There is power in the journey, which I think most writers eventually come to realize.
So, let’s do a thought exercise. How would you feel if your first book achieved critical widespread renown? For everyone else (the vast majority), what can we learn from our piles of rejections? Is it always advantageous to accomplish our goals with the least possible effort? What can the journey teach us?