WHY DO WE DO THIS?
A major "character" in Mark Salzman's first autobiography is his
father. Sometimes his father paints. But his father hates
painting. He likes it when his painting is done. He likes having
painted. But the act of painting itself is, in his opinion, a
big pain in the backside.
Nobody reading this approaches writing like that, do they? I know
I don't. Of all my experiences as an author, whacking those words
down onto the paper is the best of the best. Always has been,
always will be. Even though I cut most of them. I like creating.
I've quoted Hemingway before. Long periods of thinking, short
periods of writing. These days, my thinking takes longer and my
periods of writing are getting less frequent, but both still
happen, and I still love creating something from nothing.
If it weren't for me, you would never read the words you're
reading right now. Nobody else would ever write them. And they
contain my thoughts. Through time and space, better than
telepathy, you hear what I'm saying.
So, there's one reason to write, isn't it? The biggie, if you
ask me. I write what I do because I can't NOT write it. I may be
clarifying my thoughts in my own head. But, most certainly, I'm
just so moved by those thoughts that I must put them on paper.
They're in me and they have to get out, kinda like those critters
in the ALIEN movies.
Is this the only reason to write? Because I want to zap my
thoughts into your heads? I don't know. But let me change the
question. Is this a reason to publish? Why not write your books
and stick them in a filing cabinet like Sean Connery did in the
film FINDING FORRESTER? Write it, express it, file it away. Why
(It's okay if you haven't seen this obscure little gem. I will
In fact, there are writers who do exactly that. Some fear
rejection or criticism. We hear about them whenever we pop into a
writing workshop. But, I don't think there are very many of them.
I have trouble picturing someone who can spend months (years?)
doing something as essentially egotistical as writing a novel,
but who is fundamentally lacking in any sort of self-confidence.
Naw, they're thinking posterity but lack the stones to admit it.
At times I've got an inferiority complex I wouldn't dream of
whacking onto your shoulders, but it was absent when I wrote my
books. During the act of writing itself, you think, "My words are
better than your words." You do. You feel that you must record
your thoughts because they're that much better than most. That's
what writing is. So, I would say that by definition the author
isn't ALWAYS plagued by self-doubt.
In FINDING FORRESTER, the Sean Connery character won the Pulitzer
with his first book, saw that every reviewer misunderstood him,
and decided they could all get stuffed. This is a movie, a work of
fiction, but I understand the attitude. I once wrote a true story,
where the main character was Michael LaRocca, only to have a
critic slam the main character as "unbelievable." Apparently I
don't act like real people.
I could never shove all my writing in a filing cabinet, unpub-
lished, and tell the establishment to get stuffed. But yep,
there are stupid people in the world, and some of them review
So, we've identified two groups who won't be seeking publication.
Hopelessly insecure and hopelessly arrogant. But, like Aristotle,
I prefer moderation. You still may be wondering why I seek publi-
cation. So do I. Let my exploration of this question continue.
I've hit best-seller status for two different e-publishers with
three different books. Minor thrills at the time, but there's no
way I could call them enough of a reward for what I put into
You're an author. You know what I'm talking about. We all but
kill ourselves to make our books. So, let's be blunt here.
Unless you're going to throw Rowling/King/Clancy/Grisham money
at me -- and you're NOT -- money isn't sufficient reason to
Publishing isn't just a case of sending it to a publisher,
signing a contract, and being done.
Next up is editing, which is a blast. Not at the time, perhaps.
Any editor worth a damn will beat you over the head with every
bad word choice you ever made. And you made hundreds! But at the
end of that gauntlet, you know you are da bomb.
Seeing my cover art is almost always awesome. Yes, I did say
"almost." One bad experience among seven. It happens. But, if
you've worked with a publisher, you know what I mean. You log
onto the Internet one morning, not fully conscious, amazed that
you poured that first cup of coffee without burning off your
naughty bits. You pop open an email and see cover art that almost
makes your head explode. You get this big rush, thinking,
"Someone understands my writing!" What you don't realize, naive
little author, is that some artists don't even read the books
they do the art for. But still. The art rocks your world. Feel
that. I always enjoy clicking those email attachments and seeing
MY book covers.
But, then comes marketing. Biggest pain in the... Well, let's just
say it makes me want to not publish sometimes. So, why publish?
I've entered the EPPIES three times, and been a finalist three
times. The second time one of my books was an EPPIE finalist, I
made some wisecrack in an author's egroup about how "finalist" is
a synonym for "loser" and was raked over the coals.
(Maybe I annoyed entrants who weren't finalists. I'd always
wondered if they existed...)
So, let's say I'm not publishing for money or awards. They sing
a siren song to new authors which this jaded old bastard quit
hearing long ago. I got all that out of my system in the previous
millenium. So, why do I still publish? What are my rewards? Let
me mention a few.
A psychologist turned English teacher formed a women's reading
group at the university where we once worked together in China.
Her concept was women readers, women writers. But the first book
the group ever discussed was my very own RISING FROM THE ASHES,
which is about Mom. My only foray into "women's literature." I
couldn't attend the reading group, since I'm a guy, but my wife
was there. What I learned about my book is priceless, as is
knowing what those young students discussed because of my writing.
Issues of such depth that I'd be proud to inspire any student, in
any country, in any language, to tackle them.
I used to work on North Carolina hog farms. I enjoyed the company
of some damn fine people at every one of them. Hog farming is hard
work. This isn't the backyard family farm, folks, this is 13
people with 98 boars, 3500 sows, and all the babies they can make.
One of my toughest coworkers was a lesbian who could break Xena in
half, and my one foray into writing horror gave her nightmares.
I don't consider myself a poet, and I believe most of the reading
world agrees with me. But, I have published 6 poems. There is one
that a hog farm coworker insists will be read at his funeral.
Don't ask me why he was planning his funeral during our lunch
break because I have no idea. But, well, I guess I'm invited, in
a manner of speaking.
Master Pizza, 30th Street, Tampa, Florida. A bunch of drunken
Italian relatives reading one of my less-than-serious poems ALOUD
between pitchers of beer. It was like a Joe Dolce moment.
I was working as a security guard in a particularly unpleasant
place. This was 20 years ago, I think. A fellow guard read one of
my short stories. It is, by far, the most allegorical thing I've
ever written. I can't tell you how many times I've thought about
throwing it out. But then, I remember Bob's words. "This is me.
This is my life." Me too, old pal, and I don't care if you and I
are the only two readers to have any idea what I'm talking about.
I've written some pretty heady volumes, but I've also written
quite a few short works. I've heard from numerous students here
in China that, "This is the first book in English I've ever
finished reading." When I write, I certainly never set out to
help anyone learn English. (Some of my editors may claim I never
learned the language.) And, students will LIE to teachers. But
I've decided that at least one was telling the truth.
When I left the US, I embarked on several journeys. Learning to
live in China. Learning to love again. Taking another shot at the
writer dream. And, eventually, teaching. After all that, I tried
my hand at writing humor for the first time. Every time I hear my
wife laugh at something I've written, I file it away as a reason
to keep writing.
I've written one play in my life. I was young, and quite hooked on
the album (pre-CD days) JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. So, you guessed
it, I tackled JC. I wrote something that nobody can read without
having a powerful reaction. Readers love it or they hate it. I'm
proud of that. And hey, it's only one act long. I have a short
I loaned Clint "Two Dawgs" Hill my very first book. My cousin. He
took it to Durham (North Carolina) and loaned it to a bunch of
hippie buddies. He asked for another, because the first one fell
apart from overuse. That's why we publish. People all but fighting
for the chance to read my words. And heck, the book wasn't even
good yet. It's 20 years older now.
I mention all this for the jaded old bastards who have a few
novels and bit of minor success under their belts. Nobody else is
reading this anymore, are they?
So, maybe this is why we don't just stop when the book is written,
stick it in a drawer, and uncork the champagne. Although I do hope
you uncorked the champagne. This planet contains far too many
people who "want to be authors" but who haven't written a book.
Never have, never will. Meanwhile, you and I are sitting here
knowing we had no choice. We had to write.
Why publish? Heck, why not?
Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca
Michael LaRocca's website at http://www.chinarice.org was
chosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites
For Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw it
out and start over again because he's insane. He teaches
English at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,
China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVED