I hear tell of some people that write for themselves. It’s a leisure activity, maybe a form of catharsis? But they write in the knowledge that nobody will ever read their work. The act itself is the aim, the doing is enough. I love this idea, and it is something I have been trying to apply to my creative output. Especially with publishing comics. The act of making a book, realising it should be the target. What happens once it’s complete is largely out of the creators control. You can’t guarantee anyone will be interested, you can’t guarantee anyone will read it and you certainly can’t assume anyone will enjoy it, review it, pass it on, want to tell a friend, publish and distribute it for you, nominate it for an award or offer you a job off the back of it.
See how these things snowball?
So knowing I make books I want to make and knowing they exist HAS to be enough right now. Feeling accomplished by the aspects of your activities over which you have no direct control seems to me a very healthy perspective to keep. If I base my happiness on everything about it that I have no bearing at all… Surely I’m setting myself up for disappointment?
Which brings me back to the WHY of it all.
If I’m trying to create to please myself, why do I publish? Everything I make at it’s inception is targeted for release in some way. I’m hardwired for it. This could be my commercial design background. No thought or idea is wasted, it’s all fodder for the next brief, it’s all towards hitting a target or deadline. I don’t draw or write for please, I don’t idly sketch or doodle. If I’m drawing, it’s project relevant. If I’m writing, it’s working towards an aim. Even this newsletter is part of a bigger plan. It’s a way of regularly connecting with people that are interested in what I’m doing, it’s a way to make sure I have a reason to write on a structured schedule. There is a purpose that helps the other facets of my output.
So it must come down to ego. I write because I think what I have to say is of interest to others. I must believe the stories I want to tell will be liked by people if they read them. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?
Maybe not? Over 350 people have just laid down some money to give my story a go. That’s huge. From two and a half years ago, knowing nobody and throwing a story out to see if anyone would care… Here we are. But I can’t help think that the version of me a short 30 months ago was brash enough to assume anyone would be interested.
It gives me encouragement. I want my stories to be read, and by as many people as I can possibly get in front of. Knowing my limited marketing reach and still being able to wrangle 350+ readers gives me new belief that if we extrapolated the numbers game… If I could get in front of thousands, a decent proportion might give my stories a go.
Again, all ego. I did, this, read it! I want you to read it. I don’t even need you to like it. I want you to react to it. You can hate it, love it, but please don’t be indifferent.
This is where the realisation came in… It’s not really about my own aggrandisement. A story that finds readers becomes something new, something different from what it was before the creators let it lose… And lost control.
I write a story, it’s mine. ALL MINE. Then I pass it onto an artist, they add their spin, it ceases to be mine alone (creatively at least). There is an undeniable influence as each collaborator layers their talents into it. But the book once complete is the summation of those labours. It’s how the creators want it to be. It is as close to perfection as they are able to achieve. Totally theirs. Then it’s released.
Once it’s out in the world a story or a book ceases to be controlled by the creators. They get to keep their intentions and ideas for what it is but each reader will make up their own mind. They will for their own opinions, they will relate in ways teh creators could never have anticipated. For someone out there my story could connect with them in such a profound way that I can never plan, justify or expect. It could also be trashed, burned, or dismissed.
Once it’s out in the world it has to make it’s own way. I think that’s why I write. In the hope of making a connection, but really in the hope that someone will bless my stories with time to give them attention and thought. The idea that something that once only lived in my head is now in someone else’s is extraordinarily exciting.
So, why do I write? To have an affect on someone else.
There are very few books on my shelves that I have a heavy emotional attachment to. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is certainly one of them. It is a book that I have only ever read once in my life and I’m not certain I will ever return to it. The act of reading it has come to define a very important part of my life. Just as a scent or a snippet of music can induce a memory as stark and strong as a waking dream, each time I spy the spine of this VERY large tome, I’m transported back in time to when I was 21 years old… And the death of my Father.
My Dad passed away relatively suddenly after his second heart attack in around 3 months. He had been recovering from the first very well, so it was still rather sudden. Our family reacted by closing ranks and basically camping together in my sisters small one bedroom flat for around 2 or 3 weeks. It became our base of operations. A safe place from which to help one another and to deal with all of the crap that comes with a sudden death in the family. It was a terrible and wonderful time. In adult life there are scarce reasons for your immediate family to spend so long together and make it feel as though you are all living in a dynamic similar to that of the nuclear family home when you were growing up.
It was crowded, a little uncomfortable but it was safe and we were all together to support each other through what had to be faced, what had to be done.
A few days into this we were in town and I wandered into a bookstore. I can’t really speak to my mindset at all. My memories of this time are at once sharp in places and hazy in general. However, I do recall going in with the express desire to find a book that I could get utterly lost in. I was quite a voracious reader then, and I didn’t have access to my usual shelves at home, so I aimed for the largest book I could find, something that might last. The huge hardback spine of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was prominent in it’s simple black and white design. Upon reading the blurb I was sold. Not only a long read but the prospect of losing myself in a world that seemed a little separate from my existence at the time.
I read… And read… And read. I have no idea how long it took me, but that book went with me everywhere during that time. Through the funeral arrangements, returning home to an oddly empty house, the funeral itself, sorting through my Dad’s belongings and eventually finding a new home with my Mum. This book was a solace. An escape. A story so complete and real, a place that I could lose myself in for a few minutes or hours at a time. Somewhere to hide.
Stories are important.
We all live our lives and weave narratives. Everyday we turn the things that happen to us into little stories that we tell the people that are important to us.
I write a story in the hope that someone, somewhere finds it when they might need it and it can give them just a small relief from whatever they had to face at the time.
Stories are vital.