Shortly after receiving my first royalties for The Lesser Evil, I took a few moments to calculate an hourly rate based on the estimated number of hours I’d put into the graphic novel, and the novel that it began its life as. It turned out that I’d earned between one and two cents per hour (before expenses). Minimum wage in Australia is currently fifteen hundred times higher. I think it’s pretty fair to say that, despite the fact that money is very nice in any amount, I’m not in this caper with a realistic hope of getting rich.
So why do I feel such a compulsion to keep writing, to keep getting published, to press forward? And why is that feeling so much stronger now than ever before, after I’ve been published?
I’ve attempted to collect my thoughts below, scattered and fragmented though they might be. The thoughts from which the following is derived felt true to me; the unreasonably flowery words that follow, not as much. It’s been almost four years since I last tried to piece together my reasons. (Check out earlier efforts here and here.)
Ask any writer why they write; very few will say they got into it for a quick buck. Without having asked them, I think it’s fair to say that Stephen King and JK Rowling, both still writing, have already made their fortunes, have been thoroughly validated as creative artists… and yet they continue to create.
I have a theory: that although writers accept the validation, the fame, the money, they are but consolation prizes. Sidequests, in a sense. That writers are reaching into a realm that defies understanding, and that their life’s work is to decode that realm, to bring some sort of order to it. To understand it.
I suspect in some ways that creativity itself is a parsing exercise, an understandable filter of symbols and conventions that allow a writer to channel this volatile, impossible, unknowable abyss.
If what I’ve read in the past is served correctly by memory, Freud held up writers and psychotherapists as two vocations with unparalleled insight into the human condition. Freudians tend to believe that writers and psychotherapists arrive at the same ends, despite taking very different routes to get there. That writers are able to naturally intuit what would normally take extensive medical study to understand. (Of course, the profundity of a writer’s work varies between works and might not, in fact, even in the best of cases, be entirely a deliberate construct. But that’s another story.)
There is some sort of Great Hunt going on. Crudely put, it’s a search for understanding, for meaning, but it is more than that. Infinitely more. In some ways it feels that the entirety of the human condition is but a miniscule facet of it, and yet lies at its very core and permeates everything. The search is entirely internal, and yet explores a universe of possibilities that could not possibly be contained within an individual soul. The concept itself is so impossible to grasp, so desperately intangible, that it cannot even be tied down by words; in fact, the effort alone could well shatter its fragile state. This nameless, formless, impossible goal is, I think, at the heart of any creative work that the artist claims is its own reward. The process, the chase, the Hunt…
There’s something bigger than us, and although it’s not the source of our inspiration, it is the cause of it.
I don’t know it, but I’m sure of it. I can feel it somehow. Inside me, or out there, I’m not sure. But it’s real.
I can’t explain in any rational terms why I should feel compelled to write more than ever. My life goals are starting to topple like skittles; I’m on the path. I could walk it leisurely, but each step impels me to run, to push that little bit harder. Maybe I’m closer to something; maybe I feel like I am. Maybe, as part of the collective of writers, continually putting words and pictures out into the public domain, we are getting closer.
I hope whatever answer we find isn’t lost in the chaff.