Why Do You Write?

I sat on the floor in the back of a bookstore in old town Pasadena perusing the selections. It was Saturday, late afternoon, another sunny day in L.A. I didn’t notice the store owners hustling everyone out the door and they didn’t see me in the back on the floor. After a while I picked a book I liked, got up and went to pay for it. The store was empty except for an old man sitting at a large desk awkwardly placed in the center of the main aisle. It blocked my way to the checkout so it was impossible to ignore him.

I greeted him with a quick ‘Hi,’ and smiled as I wriggled around the desk. He smiled back and asked me if I could get him a glass of water before the signing. I told him I didn’t work at the store. Then he asked me what I was still doing there. Buying a book, I told him. He took the book out of my hand and read the title, looked at me and smiled. This is good, he assured me, and handed the book back but kept staring at me with this funny grin on his face, like he had a secret.

He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him. There was a tall stack of books on the desk next to him. The Martian Chronicles, one of my all time favorites. Then I noticed the sign on the easel in front of the desk. Ray Bradbury Live! Today at 5:00.

I blushed. He smiled with my acknowledgement. Ray Bradbury was one of my few idols and he was sitting in front of me. I was speechless at first, which is rare for me. The man was what I aspired to be, a great writer. I picked up one of the ‘special addition’ hard cover books on the desk and held it up. This is really good, too, I assured him. He laughed. In the five years I’d been seriously writing I knew nothing I’d written touched his talent. And then I got sad.

I felt the tears come. I couldn’t stop them. I smiled at him, put his book back in the stack and turned away, started to walk to the checkout but he stopped me. He asked me what was up but I told him he couldn’t possibly understand, knowing who he was, what he was, and what I was not. Try me, he insisted.

So I did. I explained that I wrote too, but didn’t label myself a writer. Though it was easy for me to recognize talent when I read it, it was impossible for me to see it in my own work. Every time I put word to paper I questioned if it was any good.

Surprisingly he laughed. Then he told me that he too had the same question running through his head with everything he wrote. More often than not when he read his own work he thought it was crap.

I was astonished. The man was a renowned novelist. How could he still question if he was any good? I had assumed once my work was recognized the uncertainty would never plague me again. The idea that I would have to battle my self-effacing ego the rest of my life, published or not was appalling, and I told him so.

His expression softened and he shook his head. Then he asked me why I write.

I’d never really considered the question before. I’d been writing for as long as I could remember, diaries and journals when I was younger, then stories and eventually novels. I assumed that once I got good enough someone would publish me and I could quit my day job and write full time, but that hadn’t happened yet. Clearly I wasn’t good enough. Perhaps I never would be. I constantly questioned when I should give it up, though the thought of not writing anymore was on par with going blind.

I write because I love to, I told him.

He smiled. Good answer, he said. The question is not if you’re any good, but if you love the process of writing. Published or not, keep writing as long as you love doing it.

And so I have. I still get disheartened, every other day it seems I’m back to black, trying to talk myself into making my day job my career. Even though I’m publishing now there isn’t any money in it. Yet. Hope springs eternal. Good or not, published or not I keep writing though, because I love to write.

Thanks Ray.


Deborah said...

Thanks for this fantastic story. You've captured my feelings as a writer and given me hope that even the "great authors" have personal doubt.

I posted a link to your blog on Facebook for my California Writers Club friends to read.

Right now, I'm on my business email.
My writer's email is dtfwriter@gmail.com

Are you on Twitter or Facebook? I found Margaret Atwood on Twitter and many writers and publishers which has made it worth my time. I scout those sites for writers' blogs, books, and websites.

Thanks again, Deborah

J. Cafesin said...

Yes. I'm on Twitter, but I'm not sure how to work all the bells and whistles on there. Mostly I just do a tweet every day or so.

Thanks for the encouragement.


art vitamins said...

Love it. Love it. LOVE IT.

When I say I'm a writer and people's eyes light up, I get scared. And sad that I'll let them down. Because everyone assumes when you say you're a writer that you must be in this exclusive inner circle of brilliance, like Bradbury here. They don't stop to think who writes the billboard they zoom past at 75MPH or the "shelf-talker" in their local grocery aisle. But it's not about the glamor, is it? Not for me, either. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be good. Of course I want to be good just like you do. But maybe loving it, loving writing, is enough. :)

Thanks for sharing your story!

Happy Daisy AZ said...

That was magaical story - thanks for sharing it!

Melanie Jongsma said...

Great story. Very meaningful. And with enough imagery that it will stick with me for a long time. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Great story. Most of us write because we love it & also because we have to write. Each time we put a word or sentence on a page, our brain automatically computes what comes next. It is a never-ending journey we gladly undertake.

Nessnix said...

Mr. Bradbury is one of my heroes. I cannot think of a writer I admire more. I have read his "Zen and the Art of Writing" countless times. I am so in awe of him that your story brought me to tears. To think that a man with his talent would take the time to care for a stranger and to take an interest in a writer just starting out and then gift you with such pearls- is completely inspiring. He is the man, I have thought him to be and more. As I always say around my house, Bradbury does not disappoint. May I link to your page and this story from my blog? I think it is most inspiring for other writers to read as we all feel like this from time to time. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us.

cygnetbrown said...

This article is so inspiring. It reminds me of my own struggles with being a writer. I love writing almost as much as I love to read and that's saying a lot because I read anything that has words. I write because this specific book isn't out there for me to read yet. It hasn't been written so I must write it. But like you, I don't want to just be a writer, I want to be a great writer. A writer that transcends her own abilities and can inspire others to also strive to be great writers. And yes, my words are crap too!

Nan Keltie said...

Thanks for sharing. There's enough here to jump start my day as a writer.

J. Cafesin said...

Nessnix asked:

"May I link to your page and this story from my blog?"

Yes! Please feel free to pass on anything you read of mine to anyone and everyone. I write to be read.

MadCityWriter said...

I am jealous, moved, awed by your story. You are a wonderful writer. It's hard to stop the doubts, I know, but know that what you write has moved someone...and that's all that matters. (One time someone told me that the ending to a screenplay I wrote made them cry. I cling to that.)

Anonymous said...

In it something is. Clearly, thanks for the help in this question.