Cup of Dcaf: Why I Write

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With November being National Novel Writing Month, I’ve seen a proliferation of posts about writing habits, motivations, help and tips, and, most of all, identity as a writer. NaNo is a big deal in the writing world, especially the amateur section of it (let’s be honest here: the pros were already writing during November). NaNo is the time for people who “always wanted to write a book” to find the motivation and acceptance in the community and sit down at a keyboard or put pen to paper. There’s a general air of beginnings with NaNoWriMo.

For me, though, NaNo is something I’ve struggled with. It feels very much like it’s targeting a different demographic of writer than I fall into. NaNo, for all of its freedoms and encouragement and message, feels very restricting to me. I plan things out way in advance, and even when I don’t or can’t stick to those ambitions, I still have an order of things. NaNo seems like a wrench in the gears when it comes to that.

Because of all this, I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to my situation and identity as a writer. I’ve seen things talking about how people write because they just have to. They write because they want to publish. They write because they have characters inside of them that are demanding to get out. After some introspection, I’ve realized that I don’t write for any of those reasons.

I don’t know if I can say I write for any one reason…but if I did, it’s that I write because I read.

I have long been the classic “reader” type. When I was little, I routinely chose to tuck myself away inside instead of playing outside (though that’s not to say I wasn’t active; about the only thing that could pry me away from books was a trip to the hockey rink). My parents constantly berated me for reading in the dark, because I picked up a book in the early afternoon and became so lost in it that I didn’t even notice the sun go down, plunging my room into shadows. To this day I literally read with my nose in my book: a habit formed from a combination of poor eyesight (maybe my parents were on to something…) and the need to get close enough to read without light.

As I got older, it quickly became apparent that science fiction and fantasy were my genres of choice. I fell in love with The Hobbit and Narnia in 3rd grade. While not SFF, adventurous stories like The Black Arrow and The Three Musketeers pulled me in before I left 5th grade. Star Wars was a mainstay on my bookshelf. It was with great effort that my parents pried Star Wars Expanded Universe books out of my young hands and replaced them with Robert Jordan’s masterpiece, The Wheel of Time. It was then, at the age of 11, that the lightbulb began to flicker its first rays in my mind, hinting at a future of storytelling.

When I had finished the (at the time) nine available WoT books, I found myself craving more—and not just to read. The creative light was now shining. So I wrote a fantasy novel, the first in a planned trilogy.

Being, at this point, in 7th grade, let’s be generous and just say that my fantasy novel was not a literary masterpiece. It clocked in at 52 pages of Wheel of Time ripoff, complete with the brilliantly renamed Tor Valos, fortress city of magic users.

I know, I know. Gotta cool it with the wondrous intelligence there, 7th-grade Drew. Pump the brakes before you take the world by storm.

Thankfully, I kept reading. I learned more about what makes a story good. I quickly realized that, were I ever to try to put my story out for public consumption, I’d promptly have my pants sued off me for plagiarism. So I went back to the drawing board, tore my novel to shreds, and rewrote it, combining the first two books in my planned trilogy into one and drastically changing the stories of two of the three main characters.

Now a junior in high school, still reading, still burning with the wonder of worlds created by incredible writers, I had a real novel: 270 pages, 75,000 words, and 99% less thinly-veiled stolen worldbuilding from The Wheel of Time.

The book still sucked. Of course it did.

Because the trajectory of my writing career has been so heavily informed by my reading, I soon stumbled across a new fantasy author, with a fast-paced, brilliant book called Mistborn.

While I slaved away at another full re-write of my book, I mourned the death of Robert Jordan. I wondered at what the future would hold for the series that flipped the switch.

And rejoiced at the spark of hope for WoT when Brandon Sanderson was chosen to carry the Dragon Banner to the Last Battle. I was lucky enough to meet him a few years later at a signing and, now a freshman in college pursuing a Creative Writing degree, excitedly told him about how I was on the third re-write of my first novel.

The following conversation went something like this:

Brandon: Thanks for coming! Do you want your book personalized?

Drew: Oh, just a writing tip or something, please.

Brandon: You’re a writer, eh?

Drew, all proud and stuff: Yup! I’m on my third re-write of my first book!

Brandon, looking at me with a horrified expression: Time to write a new book.

To this day, that’s the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten. If I hadn’t been told that, with that look of knowing terror, I’d probably still be re-writing that one book, engaged in a futile effort to make an inherently bad story good.

Instead, I was lucky enough to have a wakeup call, step back, and expand my writing horizons as I’d been expanding my reading catalogue.

To this day, that sense of wonder is still there whenever I pick up a new book, get to know new characters, and live, however briefly, in a new world.

And I want to give that chance, someday, to some young kid. I want a precocious young girl with her nose buried in a book to read about Alaina or Emmis or Keren or Trayan and think I want to be like her. I want a boy to read with wide eyes about Harael and Tymun and Selonius and feel the same aching wonder that I felt when I first met Rand and Mat and Perrin.

I write because I read, and because I want others to read, and in turn write.

I write because literature opens doors that would otherwise remain closed.

I write because sometimes you need a little escape from your life, and because sometimes you want to be carried away to another world, learning new names and meeting new people.

I write because there’s a little lightbulb glowing in my mind, and it was turned on by other writers before me.

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6 thoughts on “Cup of Dcaf: Why I Write

  1. Chris AM

    Hi, I completely agree. I identify a lot with “They write because they have characters inside of them that are demanding to get out.”

    I hate when people say “everyone has a book within their hearts.” That’s like saying “everyone has a movie/a painting/a Cathedral within their hearts.”

    Writing is difficult and should not be diminished by implying everyone at any given time can write a well done novel.
    I do however encourage and like that people write. Even for themselves. When you write you are teaching you something you did not know before. Parts of the brain that you did not know existed.

    Best,

    CM

    • Thanks for the input, Chris! I firmly agree with you in that writing isn’t something that can just be done easily. It really is hard work, and a lot of people say they want to write a book because they think it’ll be easy and something that will give them status. The fact is, if someone wants to write, they need a true reason to put in the time and the sweat and the tears that it takes to actually produce a novel.

      I always try to encourage people to write if they want to, but I’m realistic about it. If somebody isn’t willing to put in dozens, maybe hundreds of hours to write and learn, writing probably isn’t for them.

      • Chris AM

        Yup! There is this one good book… (googling) “Write Good or Die” that has an essay about it. It pretty much says “no one wakes up thinking they can win a marathon without practicing, yet a lot of people wake up thinking they can write a best selling novel.”
        I get them. I want to be a best seller author too, but it requires a lot of work (and no guarantees).
        Many times I wonder if NanoWriMo and all that is more about selling books than encouraging new authors to write.

      • Yeah, I think getting into writing for the purposes of being a bestseller is a recipe for disappointment. Even for incredibly talented writers, people who’ve put in years’ worth of practice and pain to improve their craft, the industry is difficult to break into and navigate. I think being a successful writer should depend more on whether or not you’re creating something you can be proud of and writing moving stories.

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