by Savannah J. Foley
Perhaps it’s the inherent nature of a writer, or maybe it’s just me, but I spend a lot of time contemplating the nature of life and consciousness, and my place/purpose within the world. I wonder if I am a good person. Do I need to be doing more? Such as administering AIDS vaccines to children in Africa, volunteering at a crisis hotline, joining the Peace Corps, becoming a pastor, working as a counselor, or just in general doing favors for others?
Lately I have been concerned about writing. By choosing to be a fiction writer, am I being selfish? Or am I being noble? Are those the only two choices? And what do I do if it turns out that fiction writing is a selfish activity after all? Does it even matter?
Reasons Why Writing is Selfish
Look, I write for myself, okay? I do this because I love it. I’m betting that’s why you do it, too. Why else would you put in the time and effort, and submit to the emotional beating that success requires, if you didn’t love it?
Writing lets me escape. I indulge my fantasies, following my brain on a creative tour of possibilities that I invent. The worlds I create come from me, and I find them pleasing. That’s a little self-indulgent, don’t you think?
And even after the writing process itself is done, I then subject other people to my work, asking for their feedback. Afterward, I impose my creations onto literary agents, some of which don’t appreciate it (others do, but we’ll get to that later), followed by publishers (again, some of whom will not appreciate the submission), then reviewers, bloggers, and finally readers.
I pump up my own career, blog about my projects, and network for the purpose of furthering my popularity/sales.
Me, me, me. I, I. I. My story, my characters, my book, my reviews, my place on the NYT list, my advancement, my career, etc.
You have to admit, it sounds really self-possessed.
Reasons Why Writing is Noble
Now the flip side.
Yes, I write for my own enjoyment. But if I didn’t also write for others, then I probably wouldn’t try so hard to get my stories out there. I and the rest of my contributors came from Fictionpress. No one was paying us to write those stories and post them. We posted because writing was pleasurable, but also because our stories made others happy.
We try so hard to get published because we know that our stories will touch someone’s life. We can give them an escape from their issues, an inspiration to try/do/succeed, and role models to base decisions off of. Along the way, we can educate them about issues and human nature, and create warnings for the future.
Fiction writing is an art, and I believe that our stories can enrich the soul as much as any painting or piece of classical music.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, Romeo and Juliet, etc. These books and many more entered our consciousness and created universal truths. They encourage us to rise to a greater level of humanity. In this respect I can say that writing is noble.
Ultimately I think fiction writing as an activity is a mixture of selfishness and nobility. I suppose it depends on your purpose and message, but overall I don’t think that writing should be disdained as a selfish and/or self-serving activity.
Am I a good person because I am a fiction writer? No. Am I a bad person because I am a fiction writer? Again, no. Writing is an expression of the mind, and what we choose to express makes us selfish or noble people. No matter how hard we try, I don’t think there will ever be any fiction writing on the same level of nobility as, say, anonymously curing cancer while simultaneously solving world hunger, but on the other hand, someone’s got to create spiritually-enriching entertainment. I enjoy it, so why not me?
What do you think? Do you ever feel bad for choosing to be a writer instead of a doctor, astronaut, U.N. peacekeeper, etc.? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.