Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Why I Write
I'm taking a little break today from answering your questions so that I can address one of my own... Let me give you some background.
Yesterday I drove half an hour to a neighboring town so that I could participate in a booksigning and a book club discussion. It was cold and blustery; snow blew across the road for most of the trip making it a bit of a white-knuckle ride. When I got to the library itself, I was greeted with blank stares by some and complete disregard by others. A few kids stopped to take a Hershey's Kiss from my tantalizing stash, but their moms quickly ushered them away--afraid of the sugar high or of me, I don't know. For most of the booksigning hour, I wandered the stacks near my table, read a beautiful book called Tear Soup (it made me cry), and a short story from Say You're One of Them (that horrified me to the core). I sold two books.
Don't get me wrong. I love libraries, I love reading, I love meeting people. Even if I would have gone home after the booksigning hour, I would have enjoyed my evening. One sweet elderly lady stopped to tell me that I was pretty (that made my night). And I had a fun chat with a fellow bookworm--a mom my age who I would love to have over for coffee.
But my night wasn't over after my somewhat solitary hour. At 5:30 it was time for the book club meeting. I was led to a room in the back of the library where a couple of women were already gathered. Over the course of the next few minutes participants continued to trickle in until we had a dozen of us around the table. What ensued was an hour of pure joy for me. We talked about my debut novel, After the Leaves Fall, and I was in turn surprised, touched, and awed by all the things that Julia DeSmit meant to my readers. They engaged her life, drew connections between her story and their own, gleaned lessons from the pages, and saw depth in the book that left me feeling humbled and incredibly grateful. The group was filled with beautiful, intelligent women ranging from thirty years old to eighty, and I felt blessed to be a part of their thoughful and thought-provoking discussion. Wow.
As I was driving home, a question kept rolling around in my head: Why do I write?
It's not for the fame. Honestly, unless you're Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer, being an author doesn't make you famous. Sure, a few people know who you are and like your books, but to most of the world you're just another wannabe. To this day, I regularly participate in conversations that go something like this: So, do you self-publish? Tyndale? I've never heard of them... Oh, you're a Christian author. Did you have to pay them to publish your book? It's disheartening sometimes to know that I am a teeny-tiny drop in a great big ocean. But then again, I am. And it's good to be reminded that there is only one Famous One.
And I don't write for the money. I sold two books yesterday for a whopping profit of $20. That's $10 an hour, not counting the gas to drive there, the babysitter tab, and the time away from my kids. Anyone who tells you that authors make big bucks is referring only to those on the NYT Bestsellers List. In reality, most books don't sell more than 5,000 copies. And most debut novelists will sell their first book for somewhere between $5,000-$10,000. If you figure that it takes authors several months to a year to write a book, in the end we barely make minimum wage.
So why do it? Writing is a lot of hard work! It wrenches my soul, consumes my mind, makes me want to throw things... And yet, I write.
As I was driving home last night I feel like I was finally able to articulate a big part of why I do what I do. To me, writing is all about inviting someone into conversation. I tell a story that resonates with me or is somehow connected to my life, and I hope that someone out there will read it and say, "Yes." It's a dialogue that helps me to better understand who I am, where I came from, and even how I fit into the world around me. So I offer these words, sit back, and pray that somewhere out there my pathetic attempts at meaning will bless someone. If and when they do, nothing could please me more than to engage that person in a conversation. That's exactly what happened last night. I write for the ladies of the LeMars book club. Bless your sweet hearts. Thank you for having me.