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.


  1. Beautifully put, Nicole. I often question whether the writing life is worth it, especially becaues of all the time it requires. I could be doing more constructive things, couldn't I? I also struggle with knowing whether this is truly my ministry, or if it's something I just want. Should I be spending so much time and energy trying to get published? And yet, as I pray about it, my heart is filled with passion for telling stories that give people a reason to hope. This world needs hope. And love. So, even though sometimes writing makes no sense to me, I know it's part of who I am and what I'm called to do. And I know I have to be obedient. Besides, what else would I do with all of these crazy characters running wild in my head? :-)

  2. This post made me cry... I love your beautiful heart and your transparency!!

    I pray that you continue to bask in the glow of the purpose that He gave you and that you are given groups such as this on your path...groups that keep your passion alive! Your words are important to many...and I speak as one touched by them. :)

    Many hugs,

  3. Nicole,
    Hey I'm a first time commenter, but have been reading your blog for a while in addition to having read all your books and loving them.

    I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy what you write, whether here on your blog or the books themselves. I can't wait for the next one, (I hope it is the conclusion to Julia's story) and I have recommended them to friends.

    I very much relate to your reason for writing. I'm not an author, I write for myself. But writing things out is how I process life.

    I really enjoy reading your voice. Keep it up.

  4. You don't have to publish this comment if you prefer, but wanted you to know that you are one of my happy makers today. Pop over if you get a minute:

    :) Bina

  5. Thanks, Sara. You're so right--the world needs hope and love. And glimpses of truth amidst the chaos. And moments of transcendence and light. And a hug... a touch of compassion, an "I understand." Keep writing, girl.

    Bina, you bless me. I write for people like you. :)

    Brittaney, thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you liked my books, and I'm happy to tell you that I'm currently in the middle of writing the conclusion to Julia's story! My deadline is April 31 and the book should release early next spring. I'm hoping for a Valentine's Day release since this book will have a strong romantic element. A little different for me, but I'm very excited. Anyway, blessings with your own writing, wherever it takes you...

  6. Nicole, this is such a beautiful post. Thank you for being so open and honest and realistic. I think what you've explained is what it should be about. Best and blessings to you.

  7. Eureka! That's it! You have articulated the reason I write as well. It's to engage people in a conversation and to invite them to enter into a relationship - with my characters. The characters I create reflect myself and my experiences with a greater measure of truth than I am often willing to admit. That's where I find myself - in their lives.

    I remember watching the 1977 film "Juila" about playwrite Lillian Hellman. I loved the scene where she became so frustrated she threw her typewriter out the window. So how many computers have you gone through, Nicole? :)

    The comments others have made about Tyndale are funny in a sad sort of way. Unfortunately most people have no idea how much work goes into writing a novel much less seeing it through the publishing process. It reminds me of how people reacted when they found out my husband and I were publishing a monthly Christian newspaper. We were often asked if it was full-time work or only part-time. My favorite reply to both became, "Only if it slows down!" I always enjoyed watching people's expressions as the meaning of this slowly dawned on them.

    Glad you are compelled to create conversations that engage your audience. Don't be discouraged, God is blessing the work of your hands!


  8. I have such admiration for writers. I've tried to write a book. I just don't have the passion or the patience for it. And while I can express myself well in a blog, or in a letter, or MAYBE a short story sitting down to write a book, to tell a story is quite another thing entirely. You have to have the storyteller knack and fill in all those details. It's something I'm not innately good at. I know you can learn and you can develop a talent, but quite frankly I just don't have the "IT" factor in me to make the effort. After a lot of soul searching, conversations with God and fruitless comparison to really really talented people (like you) I realized that's OK because I'm not really called to it. I'm called to enjoy the gift that God put in you and other writers. So I thank you for writing because you give me many hours of pleasure, and give me pause to contemplate life in a way I would never have considered because of your stories.