Author Margaret Atwood’s wise words say it all:
“Anybody who writes a book is an optimist.
First of all, they think they’re going to finish it.
Second, they think somebody’s going to publish it.
Third, they think somebody’s going to read it.
Fourth, they think somebody’s going to like it.
How optimistic is that?”
Seven years ago I took a week-long novel writing class through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival hosted by The Iowa Writer’s Workshop every summer. The topic of the week-long session was: The First 10 pages of Your Novel. I was excited. I had about 40 pages of my first-ever novel manuscript in the works and I’d been enjoying the road to discovery with it.
After our group had gathered into the classroom that we’d share for the week and gone around the table introducing ourselves to each other, the instructor asked—what to this day I consider the most important question any writer should ask themselves–“Do you know why you want to write your novel?”
And then we went around the table again sharing our answers. Not one person said anything about becoming rich and famous. One person said she enjoyed light mystery and simply wanted to try and write one. Another was exploring the depths of a character that was stuck in her head, and she needed to see where that was going to lead.
I knew the minute the question was out in the room what my answer would be. “I simply want to give people a break.” He nodded at me, listening. “There’s so much crap going on all the time in this world, and I think people need something to escape with,” I remember explaining. (So terribly gallant and optimistic sounding, don’t you think? But I still believe it.)
I’m drafting a new novel during this National Novel Writing Month Challenge this November. By November 30 I will have 50,000 words in place. I have no idea what the heart of the story is about yet.
One of my protags, a lady named Margarite, in this November writing is a woman who has received some disquieting medical news. This was her closing thought before I shut the computer off Saturday night:
“She didn’t want to give up—dry up—and be blown away like this. Alone, sick—maybe dying—and be tossed out like some crumpled up candy wrapper whose contents had been savored and devoured, and was now supposed to just disappear quietly into the trash bin.”
Something tells me there might be plenty of people who could identify with Margarite.
If I could be lucky enough to write something that allowed someone to step away from some of their daily pandemonium, and maybe—just maybe—find a bit of common ground through some of the non-fiction stories, or even a fictional character’s thoughts—for even a little while—I will have done my job as a writer.