No, not the Hoobastank song. This is my reason.
A few nights ago, while at my ‘normal’ job, a co-worker watched me as I lugged my industrial Laser Jet printer into the office and set up the fifteen pound machine in my little corner of the call center. There were only three of us in the building so late at night, and thus I honestly didn’t give a shit if one of the other two took issue with my plans. To be fair, I warned him ahead of time, and he took my insanity with a smile and a chuckle, like he always does. This co-worker, by the way, is the epitome of awesome. I could not ask for a better person to sit diagonally from on those long, annoying, painful, terrible nights where all I would like to do is reach through the phone and strangle the people on the other end of the line. This co-worker is also not a stranger to my eccentricities. He knows I’m a writer. We’ve talked about it. He supports me every night that we work together and is always asking how the ‘scripts are coming. He always asks me in a genuine manner, too. Never forced conversation or out of politeness. To put it bluntly: this man rocks.
By the time I was finished with my set up, my little niche of a desk looked like the worst example of your father’s idea of his best idea ever of hanging Christmas lights and jamming the plugs into one outlet. Cables were re-arranged, slung across my three-foot wide steely gray desk, down behind the translucent black plastic that served as a sound buffer between what I can only think to call the cubicles. My laptop and its seventeen inch screen shared the desk with the sleek twenty two inches of the flat-screen monitors provided by my employer, and, of course, the phone. The headset attached to said phone, which I use for my actual job to talk to actual customers with somewhat actual problems, stretched from its jack in the back that I then twisted from a hole in the partition of the metal between the cubicles and laced through my belt loop before fitting it comfortably on my head. This I did to give me enough slack to move around.
Now, at 1 o’clock in the morning there’s a lot of idle time where I work. It was because of that I decided to drag my monster of a printer into work. I could kill two birds with one stone. My goal was to begin edits on a different (and complete) manuscript to get my mind off of Gestalt for a little while and refresh my brain with something slightly different. In order to facilitate not fucking this process up I want a physical copy to edit. After all was said and done there was barely enough room for my chair. I decided to kick it out into the aisle. Standing was a better option at that point.
My co-worker listened to the whirring the printer made as I proceeded to dish out chapter after chapter of the current draft of the manuscript. Section by section the pages slowly built up, were hole-punched roughly twenty at a time and filed into the two and a half inch red three ring binder. Three hundred and eighty pages, five remote desktop sessions with customers, two hours and three paper jams later I clicked off the power to the printer, pulled my chair back over, and slumped down into as if I’d just run the March of Dimes 5k on Auditorium Shores and won.
Upon hearing my exasperated sigh, my co-worker looked up from his computer screen and asked me, “Why do you write?”
My answer was immediate. Unrehearsed. Raw. Ask any writer, published or not, why they write and the answer will always be the same.
“Because I have to,” they will tell you. And tell him that I did.
Then I thought on it for a moment. The reasons for this knee-jerk reaction vary from writer to writer. Some think they have the next Great American Novel on their hands. They are egotistical enough to throw themselves into the same ranks as Mark Twain, Steinbeck, Faulkner. They are Hell-bent on being published for such a credit and a footnote in history as one of “The Greats”. Others feel they have something they have to say. They have honed and crafted their skills for their writing careers to make a commentary on life, on politics, on religion or society or some fault in the system. Some just do it for the money, thinking that there is a grandiose paycheck waiting for them around the corner if someone would just take the hint that they are the next J.K Rowling or Dan Brown.
I actually laughed at my own absurdity as I mustered all of the sanity within me to add, “Because my characters won’t shut up until I tell their story. It doesn’t matter if anyone else ever reads these things that I have spent years of my life developing, molding, twisting; the stories simply must exist or my characters will drive me to lunacy.”
Only after I said that did it, ironically, fortify my own understanding of myself. I know the odds of being a successful author are stacked against me. Would the money be nice? Fuck yes, but I don’t realistically anticipate living like Stephen King anytime soon, if ever. Would I like to get published? Of course. That’s the secondary reason I write. I don’t care about the money so much as I do about telling a good story. I want to be able to have my novels plucked off of a Half Price Books store bookshelf by someone, the same way I do now, to take home and curl up next to by the window with a rum and coke on a stormy evening, or prop open on the porch to enjoy with a tall glass of lemonade on a summer day. I want my stories to be companions that won’t judge you, but will draw the audience in, make them forget what time it is and say “Sit a while and listen to my story.”
Maybe, if I’m lucky, that one action will pull someone through a dark spot in their life. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, that person will see a piece of themselves in my characters and recommend the book to their best friend.
My stories are not laced with layers upon layers of meaning and secret codes and commentary on the world around us. I’m not looking to change the world with my stories. I know I won’t bring about revolution. I know I won’t stem the tide between good and evil. I’m not so naive to think that I single-handedly have that influence. But perhaps, if the powers-that-be decree it, I can make a modest living off of my passion while simultaneously allowing you to forget about real life. Of lost jobs, road rage, strained relationships and broken hearts for a little while by diving into another world.