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.)

Knowing where you are going

signWhen I start to write a book I have a general idea of how it is going to end, but the specifics have surprised me every time. I’ve recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel, c3, and I am still enjoying some of the  unexpected twists and turns. The good news is that I always know exactly where I am going once I have finally gotten there. 🙂

A few months ago I wrote a guest post answering the question of whether I used an outline or not. My answer was yes I did and yes I didn’t. That seems to have become more true with each story I’ve written, and I’d like to share the post with you.

catWe’ve gotten very into particle physics at my house lately, mostly because my husband is reading about entanglement.  We are household of geeks, and the three of us and my older daughter who is visiting are fascinated by Schrödinger’s cat, hidden in its box simultaneously both dead and alive. For until you open the box, every possibility exits. It’s not a case of an “or”, it is an “and”. Dead and alive, simultaneously, as impossible as that seems.

And so it goes with my writing. In my twenties I thought planning was evil and that true creativity would spring forth from my subconscious only if it was unfettered by something mundane as an outline.  I still have pages of long hand creative brilliance that go on and on in a fascinating if somewhat illegible fashion and then go nowhere in various interesting ways.

My thirties brought children and a real job and a need for order, and my attempts to write went with it. Carefully planned lists and plot outlines filled neat folders on my computer, and my first book was outlined so many times it got ridiculous.  I didn’t write, I just made outlines, but they were really spectacularly thorough ones.

Today I do both, or neither. My fourth book started just like my first, with a series of chapters each defined only by four to six bullet points that got me from where I wanted the story to start to where I wanted it to end and provided a sense of pace for getting from here to there in about twenty chapters. No details.  Each time I have written the first few chapters with no further constraints and watched to see what happened. Each time, there were surprises, mostly in the subplots and additional characters that emerged.

outlines 1

research and outline in progress

Then for each chapter after the first couple, before starting  that chapter I expand the bullet points out to maybe ten to twenty items for just that chapter, so that I can now make sure that all the growing complexity is getting moved along in a timely fashion.  Every few chapters from then on I stop and look ahead, adding a bullet point or two to my later chapters to make sure that all emerging subplots will get carried through to conclusion. But I never plan details, leaving room even in the current chapter for my characters to surprise me.  They do that a lot, and I think that is the most incredibly fun thing about writing fiction.

So it is a little like Schrödinger’s cat.  It is both outlined and it is not. Only in the cat’s case, the probability function collapses when you open the box, and it becomes one thing or another, dead or alive.  My novel’s probability function collapses when the book is done, when it becomes both a story with form and structure and yet a tale full of events I could not have predicted when I started.

This appeared as a guest post at
Bunny’s Book Review
on June 8, 2013
Kindle Nook Books on June 13, 2013
The Book Connoisseur on July 28, 2013

Check these blogs out for a wealth of information on reading, writing and publishing as well as leads for many fine books you aren’t that likely to hear about elsewhere.