Just before I read it there had been one of those brief but lively Twitter exchanges between myself and a couple of other people on the "why I write" theme.
I don't write for money. I have never written for money. Realistically I know it is increasingly unlikely that I will ever be fortunate enough to find an agent or a publishing contract. Some people will say I should have tried harder and much sooner but studying while working and also doing what amounted to a second full time job really did not leave time. I wrote but writing is not preparing something to submit for publication.
I wrote because, as Joanne Harris puts it, "Most authors are driven to write - would probably write whether or not they were ever published or paid, just for the joy of it."
And she goes on to say, "This is their strength and their downfall."
Yes, true. We would write anyway.
I need to write. By "write" I do not mean the daily blog post, I mean the words that need to come out because a character has introduced himself/herself to me and demands that I tell their story. I don't have a choice. It would drive me to the edge of madness if I did not do it. It might even tip me over the edge - if I have not already reached that point.
Authors are, quite simply, undervalued. They are paid far too little. Everyone uses words. They are seen as being of little value. There is, as Harris points out, the occasional writer who becomes extremely wealthy. She gave JK Rowling as an example and that produced another stereotypical type storm from the media. (Either they deliberately misunderstood or journalists are severely lacking in listening and reading comprehension skills.) Most writers earn so little that it does not pay them to write. The most skilled among us are perhaps the lowest paid.
We need story tellers. My ancestors are Scots. There was a time when each clan had a "seanachaidh" (pronounced shan-a-key) - a storyteller. The seanachaidh was an important member of the clan, the person who kept the story of the clan alive and passed it on to the next generation. It helped the members of the clan understand the past, make sense of the present and plan for the future. All societies have had such people. They are the tellers of the myths and legends that were used to explain the world.
And we still need those myths and legends. We need stories. We cannot make sense of our world without stories. Stories are what give us the concept of time - the idea of past, present and future. They are the way in which we order the world.
And, as Harris has to say here,
"Stories – even fairy stories – are not just entertainment. Stories are important. They help us understand who we are. They teach us empathy, respect for other cultures, other ideas. They help us articulate concepts that cannot otherwise be expressed. Stories help us communicate; they bring us together; they teach us different ways to see the world. Their value may be intangible, but it is still real.
That’s why our politicians, far from closing libraries, should be opening new ones. That’s why our thinkers, instead of dismissing fairytales as fantasy, should celebrate creativity. That’s why our schools, instead of teaching literature in the way that gets the best grades, should be using it to fire pupils’ enthusiasm and imagination."
I will go even further than that our politicians, both here Downunder and elsewhere in the world, have to come to understand that without writers firing the enthusiasm and imagination of readers - especially young readers - then there will be no progress. Without enthusiasm and imagination we will not make progress. We won't even stand still. We will go backwards.
And so, I am compelled to write.
Writers are sentenced for life with no possibility for parole.