What Keeps Us Writing?

What keeps us writing especially with all the dire news about book publishing?

For me, it’s simply this.  I can’t not write.  It’s what I do.  It informs the way I think, the way I read.  Writing weaves itself through my day whether I enter a note in a notebook or don’t.  It’s always there.  So that keeps me writing.

Publishing?  That’s another story.  For now, I’m so deep into the writing mode that I try to stick my fingers in my ears when it comes to publishing news.

“My agent doesn’t want even to read my work unless the book has a clear, defined audience.”  “I’m publishing my book myself.” “Writers can no longer make their living from copyright.”  “Ebooks are killing traditional publishing.”  Some of these dark messages come from the media, from the blogosphere, but most of it from my friends, long published authors themselves.

But still, every weekday morning, I find myself back at my desk, ass to chair, researching my father’s military record or my mother’s trip to Paris the day Hitler invaded Norway, fitting the jigsaw pieces of their life together to make a coherent narrative.  Someday this book will be done and I will lift my head from the screen and start trying to sell it.  But I won’t go there now.  I’ll simply keep writing because that’s the first and most important part of my job.

Finally, I’m lucky enough to hear through the Internet or my guestbook, words from my readers. They feel to me like messages in a bottle thrown onto the waters of the web.  Last week, this one floated up onto my shore and into my mailbox from a blogger at this link:


To keep the kid’s book theme running, I guess I’ll go with my first favorite book.  That would be The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop.  Mrs. Wood gave it to me to read in the 1st grade.  It wasn’t the first chapter book I read but it was the first one given to me by someone at school, and I got to sit in the back of the classroom and read it all by myself.  This was huge, and I can still remember how it felt to sit there and be given permission to lose myself in this story, just privately.  I don’t think I had to write about it or give an oral report about it or draw or do a diorama or anything.  No one else in the class read it – just me.  Sometimes it’s lovely to have a book you share with others, but a private book is also a great pleasure, especially when you’re small and don’t have many private things.

I loved the medallion that made things small.  I still think the lesson in it is a good one, and the idea that even if you love someone that doesn’t mean you can hold on to them no matter what they want was a really tricky one for me to get my head around at age 6.  I never learned to do gymnastics, but somewhere in the back of my mind I was always fascinated by them because of this book.  I suspect the book may have something to do with the number of apples I eat as an adult, too.

Imagine that. Something like twenty years ago, a teacher gave this first grader my book to read.  And she or he still remembers it and remembers it well.

Now that keeps me writing. How could it not?