Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Posterity: Why Do We Write?




By Marilyn Baron

I just finished reading The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of one of my favorite books, The Shadow of the Wind. The first paragraph really grabbed my attention and made me think about why I write.

“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”

What does it for me, I think, is the promise of getting my name printed on that “miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive (me).” I’ve always dreamed of having my name on a book at the bookstore and in the library. It’s not the money, not the fame, but the fact that something I’ve written will survive for posterity. Maybe that’s the same reason we procreate, so a part of us will live on after we’re gone.

At age 11, one of my poems, The Spider Web, was published in Highlights, the magazine I read as a child in the dentist’s office. And my fourth grade teacher read my first “book” to the class in installments during the lunch break. It was called “East West Island,” and the characters were all kids in my class. That fourth grade teacher, Ralph Provisero, encouraged me to write, and before he died he sent me a letter saying he knew I would one day be a successful writer. Maybe I write for him, maybe I write for my parents who always supported my desire to write. My father always wanted to be a writer and I’d like to be a success for him. Maybe I write for myself. I suspect it’s a combination of reasons.

But that first paragraph in The Angel’s Game spoke to me and I think it rings true.

Another great book I just read, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, begins with these words: “Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it.”

Whether or not you write your Life Story or just a story, it must be compelling if it is going to fly off the shelves on its way to bestsellerdom.

I would be satisfied to write a book that speaks to someone. A book containing language a reader would marvel over, quote, think about and recommend to a friend.

Then once your novel makes it to the bookstore, the reader has another dilemma. What book should they choose out of the vast selection offered?



Too many choices: What ever happened to plain old orange juice?

That brings to mind something that happened to me in Publix the other day when I went shopping for a carton of orange juice. Just plain orange juice. I soon discovered there was no such thing as plain old orange juice. There were countless brands and within brands countless choices. Too many choices.

There was Orange Juice With Lots of Pulp (Grovestand). Some Pulp. No Pulp. Low Acid. Calcium D. Pure Premium. Heart Health With Omega-3. Antioxidant Advantage. Healthy Kids. And the list goes on.

It’s the same when you walk into any bookstore. There are just too many choices. What will make your novel stand out and encourage the consumer to choose your book?

What about you? When did you get that “sweet poison of vanity in your blood?” Why do you write? What do you think will make your work in progress stand out and encourage the consumer to pick it up?

20 comments:

Cinthia Hamer said...

Very thought-provoking post, Marilyn.

The term sweet poison reminds me of a line from Notting Hill. William is talking to Spike about his feelings for Anna and he says "It's like I've taken love heroin and can never have it again."

The thrill of having my name in the byline of a column written for my high school newspaper intoxicated me. Then when I found romance novels, I knew. I wanted MY name on the cover of one of those books. I crave it, yearn for it and I'm willing to literally sell myself for that privilege.

As for the orange juice, you're on your own. I can figure them out, either

Cyrano said...

Well Marilyn,
I, like you, started young. I used to enter short story and poetry contests as a kid. I'd send them out to the Broward County Youth Fair and I'd always win first prize. It was such a thrill. As I got older I'd enter stories in scholarship contests. I won those too. I was on a nearly full ride to GSU for swimming, but those writing scholarships added up and helped pay for books, rent and even food.
My first book was called A Day In The Life Of A Tennis Shoe. That story won me 200 dollars. Pretty cool.
So I guess, like many authors, I got the bug early in life. I wrote then for praise and a first place win.
I write now to satisfy a creative urge deep in my heart. And, like you, to see my name on the spine of a book.
Great post Marilyn. And I loved the OJ analogy.
Have a brilliant day!
Tamara

Marilyn Baron said...

Thanks for your comment. I also ejoyed the thrill of a byline for my high school newspaper when I was Features Editor and as editor of numerous publications for corporate clients. But, I agree, to have your name on a book, that would be the ultimate thrill.

As far as orange juice, I've settled on Simply Orange, Original, Pulp Free. It tastes good and it's the closest thing I can find to Plain Old Orange Juice.


Marilyn Baron

Marilyn Baron said...

Tamara,

I think we talked about it, but I was born in Miami and I remember going to the Dade County Youth Fair. So we were "neighbors" at an early age and now we're blogging sisters.

I know we will see your name on the spine of a book and soon.

Marilyn

Linsey Lanier said...

Wonderful post, Marilyn. I'm bewildered by the number of choices we have today, too. One reason I hate shopping and let hubby do it.

On my website bio, I talk about a story I wrote in first grade about a "Happy Bear." I think I remember it because the teacher read it to the whole class as said it was the best one. I think everyone hated me for it, so having your name out there isn't always pleasant.

Maybe I was "imprinted" then. Your post made me wonder. But in pre-college days, I started reading Charles Dickens and just started feeling "literary." Like an artist. Like a novelist.

I think my main reason for writing is to make people feel all those wonderful emotions I do when I read a good book. You never really know if you accomplish that, but it still drives me.

When your book is on the shelf, I'll find it. I think a lot of others will, too. :) (Along with Steffl, Salcedo, a everyone else in our group.)

Linsey

Maxine Davis said...

Marilyn,

I really enjoyed your post. I guess I'm a late bloomer. Oh, I always loved the thought of writing, but I thought you had to practically be an expert on a subject to write about it. I knew enough to know I didn't know enough. Make sense?

Anyway, I guess now I'll just have to live a really long time to catch up.

Marilyn Baron said...

Linsey and Maxine,

Thanks for your comments. Imprinting, that's an interesting concept.

I agree that making people feel the emotions we do when we read a really good book is a great reason to write. There are a lot of wonderful books out there. I probably read two or three books a week and I frequently say, "Wow, I wish I had written that."

We have high standards to aspire to.

Marilyn

Dianna Love said...

I love that phrase - sweet poison of vanity in his blood.

You deserve a certain amount of private vanity over creating something no one else has and knowing you're the first one to see "those" words on paper. I think, like Maxine, it's a common assumption that you must be an expert to write something. What I love about this business is reading stories by writers who didn't know better - that they wrote because the passion wouldn't be smothered.

We watched Romancing the Stone at M&M two weeks back. That screenplay was written by a waitress on her off time. Finding that out made me smile.

I love the posts of "first stories" like Marilyn's - great memories and very motivating for a young writer.

Marilyn Baron said...

Dianna,

I didn't realize Romancing The Stone was written by a waitress on her time off. That's great. I love that movie and enjoyed seeing it again at M&M.

It's amazing how many successful (blockbuster) debut books there are out there. So there is hope.


Thanks for visiting our blog.

Marilyn

J Perry Stone said...

I'm reeling over that paragraph, Marilyn, and I'm a little depressed it strikes such a discordant chord in my heart. ?? Am I that desperate to be remembered?

But the bigger truth is, I just love words. I love them in stories, in poetry (John Keats!) ... I even love amazing conversations in movies (one exchange about Pinot Noir in the movie Sideways always warms my heart).

I just want to be a part of the word world.

For me, the desire was reinforced in high school while sitting in Mrs. Kellogg's Brit Lit. class. I was only the very adoring audience--hanging on every word--but figured, if I admired the scribes so very much, why not be one?

Also when my mother informed me, at three years of age, I most likely would not be a shepherdess, I said I wanted to be an author.

Story time has always been my favorite.

Jeanette said...

Great post Marilyn and it made me think.

Unlike the majority of writers, I never had the "desire" to write. But, I was ALWAYS a great storyteller. Back then, I didn't associate writing with the telling or retelling of a story.

I didn't know the people in my head wanted their story told. I thought they were there for my entertainment only. There to get me through the rough patches (dumped boyfriend) in my life.

There're still there. Only now I'm letting them guide my hand, coaxing them out into the big bad world away from that safe environment. It's a little scary for them and me as well. At the same time it's exciting and rewarding when you read back over a particular scene and think, "Damn, that's pretty good." I really "can" write.

Tami Brothers said...

Hi Marilyn,

Love this post. It really makes a person think about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

I have to admit, when I first put pen to paper, I JUST wanted to accomplish writing something. Then when I did that, I looked to see my name on a book that others would read.

Now, I have to admit, that I would like to get paid (as well as see my name on that book). It sounds shallow, I know. But it's there and it's hard to beat down.

Love the orange juice paragraph. It definitely reminds us that we have to make ourselves stand out amongst all the other writers!

Thanks for the post, Marilyn!

Tami

(I too love knowing Romancing the Stone was written by a waitress on her off time. I think one of the reasons I love the Harry Potter series so much is because I love the story behind how JK Rowling wrote the first book. It gives us hope!)

Marilyn Baron said...

J,

You would have made a cute shepherdess. Being part of the word world, that's great.

Jeanette,

Get those people out of your head and onto the page! I like your comments about writing being great storytelling.

Marilyn

Marilyn Baron said...

Tami,

I love the JK Rowling story, too. It does give you hope. Thanks for commenting.

Marilyn

Anna Steffl said...

Hum. I wrote fantasy stuff as a kid with lots of illustrations and fake languages with their own goofy alphabets. I was so good at one phonetic alphabet that I'd write parts of the story in it. Doesn't get any geekier than that.

Then, I stopped writing until I won a award in high school for writing essays. I had to do a short story. It sucked, but nobody's grandma died in it, so I considered it a triumph (everybody else wrote these treacly grandma died stories).

Took a creative writing class in college. Was told no fantasy or SF because it was "unreadable." That kind of put a damper on my natural area of writing interest. Shouldn't have let it, should I?

Anyway, thanks for the post. So many neat ideas/questions.

Marilyn Baron said...

Anna,

Maybe you ought to resurrect those fantasy stories with the fake languages. You may be on to something.
Marilyn

Nicki Salcedo said...

I like pulp free orange juice and on my fancy days I find tangerine juice. Now books are another matter all together. I read many genres, but these days I read nothing. It saddens me.

I don't care if my books ever get published. I just want something for my kids. I think writing is the best form of journaling that you can share...even if its fiction.

Marilyn, this is a great post. What Dianna said gave me chills, "You deserve a certain amount of private vanity over creating something no one else has and knowing you're the first one to see "those" words on paper." Okay. Wow. Thanks, M!

Marilyn Baron said...

Well, I know your books will be published and your kids will appreciate all the wonderful things their mother has to say.

I am addicted to reading and sometimes it gets in the way of writing, I just can't wait to see what happens next. I'm reading the new Outlander book and it is so good, but very long, so it keeps me up at night and I have about 10 other great books I want to read, but I'm also writing, so that's good. Reading good books really does inspire me. Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Marilyn

Debbie Kaufman said...

5th grade for me. I wrote a story about escape from China down the Yangtze river. Little did I know that I would see it one day. Fortunately I didn't have to escape down it the way my heroine did, lol.

Ana Aragón said...

Great post, Marilyn! Unfortunately, I had so much on my plate this week that I didn't get a chance to read your post...wonderful as always.

I've always been a storyteller...love to tell stories. I started writing very young...I'd enter jokes to the Archie and Veronica comic books! I was on the newspaper staff at my junior high school and loved that. But I didn't write for publication until I was in my early 30s, and then it was in non-fiction.

I've been seriously pursuing publication for the past 5 years. Seems like yesterday.

Ana