The Number One Reason I Write Books

I write books. Why?

It is a reasonable question. I recently started participating in writer’s groups again and much about them has got me thinking.  A women well into her second novel told me of an acquaintance who has made it to the New York Times Best Seller list. Wow. Something to be in awe of, of course. My critique group-mate is also in awe of the woman’s process. To paraphrase, she read the top ten fiction books at the time, analyzed what they had in common, and wrote the perfect hybrid book, designed to succeed. And it did.

All I could think was “what a miserable way to write a book.” That brought me round to the essential question of this post. If I’m not writing to make a best seller list, what am I doing? I tried to be brutally, unflatteringly honest and I came up with seven reasons I choose to spend most of my free time on my laptop creating books. Some of them are pretty stupid.

This post is about the first answer that popped into my mind. It may not be my biggest reason, but it may be the one that keeps me writing novel after novel.

I have fun doing it. In fact, I have more fun making up a story than I have doing anything else. Yes, even that (although it is close.)

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t particularly enjoy rewriting, or proofreading, or formatting or all the other chores that take 80% of my writing time. I do enjoy research, but not that much. I hate marketing. I don’t do much outlining. But I love, absolutely love, making up stories and putting them down on paper.

I’ve told myself tales in my head for as long as I can remember, but committing the story to typed words moves it from an ephemeral daydream to a real thing. It can become more complex, be improved, and be reread and enjoyed. Seeing the words in front of me makes it better, and allows me to tell far longer tales.

The best part of it? It is finding out what happens. I always have an ending in mind, but I never know how my characters are going to get there, and they continually surprise me. They morph into better or worse or more complex people than I intended, they develop points of view I never considered, and they come up with ingenious solutions I swear I would never think of. (Or is that impossible?)

For me, that first draft is like watching a movie or reading a book except it is in a setting I picked, filled with characters I resonate with, and about things I like. Once I’ve got a story going, I can’t wait to get back to writing to figure out what will happen. Other forms of entertainment seem boring by comparison. I like my own stories better.

There you have it. Goofy but real. I write for my own entertainment.

Are there other reasons? There must be. I keep doing the other 80 per cent of the process over and over as well, no matter how much drudgery it is. Why? Perhaps the reason lies in the other six reasons that occurred to me. Those will be the subject of another post.

(Read more about why I write at My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing , Nothing cool about modest ambitions and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)

Learning as you go

The story of Biafra’s failed struggle for independence moved me so much when I researched my first book, x0, that I spontaneously decided to pledge 10 per cent of x0’s proceeds forever to the international aid organization that was born out of the conflict, known in the U.S. as “Doctor’s Without Borders.”

At the time I was sort of feeling my way along with this whole book writing thing anyway, and with the idea of blogging as well. I made a blog called Face Painting for World Peace to discuss everything from Nigeria to telepathy to, well, world peace. Turns out that I’ve enjoyed keeping up the blog ever since, and been proud to send a couple of checks off to DWB as well.

When y1 came along, it seemed like I needed a second blog. I wanted it to make the URL http://www.tothepowerofone.org to be similar to the x0 website http://www.tothepowerofzero.org. I liked the symmetry. However, that web address turned out to already belong to a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty throughout the Pacific Islands. Wow. y1 was about Pacific Islands. I decided that was pretty amazing, and meant that ten percent of the proceeds from y1 were destined to be donated to To the Power of One. So while this organization was in no way involved with or endorsed my book, I encouraged the readers of y1 to visit their website and consider supporting them. Because, well, it just seemed to fit.

Healing Light 1Several months ago I finally got around to sending that first check off from my y1 sales. At least I tried to, and was sad to see that To the Power of One had vanished from the web. I was unable to find another organization that they had perhaps morphed into, and concluded that for what-ever reason, the group no longer exists.

It’s not like I have a lot of proceeds from my books to donate. If you know a self-published author you probably realize this. But a promise is a promise and I was determined to send my small check off to someone. But who?

Afi, one of the main characters in the book and Zane’s eventual love interest, is from the islands of Kiribati. These low lying Pacific atolls will likely be one of the first causalities of climate change as rising sea levels submerge an entire nation.

I looked around for a group working to abate climate change in sensible ways and I was delighted to discover the World Resources Institute.

According to their website WRI’s mission is “to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.” You can hardly quarrel with that. The organization receives top ratings from GuideStar, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, the Better Business Bureau and Philanthropedia. They organize their efforts not just around climate change,  but also around clean energy, food, forests, water and cities and transportation.

So off my check went, and now I get regular updates (and requests for more money) from them. It’s okay.  I like them and what they do and I like the idea that y1 is in some small way making a contribution. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I started this, but then none of this adventure in writing novels has turned out quite like I expected. I’m learning as I go. I think that’s a fine thing to do.