Why am I a writer? Interesting question, that. Probably a little like asking why I went into engineering, or am obsessed with flying and airplanes. George Orwell, author of 1984, his disturbing look into the future that has become a disturbing assessment of the present, said he knew by the age of five that he wanted to be a writer. I can barely remember being five, so I can’t make that claim. He also claimed, in his 1946 essay Why I Write, there are four reasons why people are motivated to write: (1) sheer egoism, (2) aesthetic enthusiasm, (3) historical impulse and (4) political purpose. I imagine we can all relate to reason number one, but the others require some navel gazing.
As is often said, words have meaning and the most challenging part of answering my title question is the meaning of the term “writer.” A person who paints, we call a “painter.” One who plumbs, we call a “plumber.” I write—quite a lot, actually—so I guess that would make me a writer (in truth, few of us “write” nowadays—to be literally correct, we are all “typers”). But I don’t know if I would claim to be a “Writer,” with capital W. That is, one whose motivation is to be successful at selling what he writes, and presumably to make a living doing so. My observation is that most of the people who say they are, or are attempting to become, a “writer” mean by that they are or hope to be successful at getting published and selling their books.
I confess to being subject to Orwell’s “sheer egoism” when it comes to my books. Of course I would be ecstatic if they sold by the jillions and made me disgustingly rich. I would also be ecstatic if I lived to be a hundred and retained the body of a thirty-year-old. But none of that answers my question. That answer, I believe, was stated most simply, and best, by a comment I read in a blog post by Jimmie A. Kepler where he stated “I’m a writer because I enjoy writing.”
And that’s pretty much it. I write because I enjoy writing. I can’t remember a time when writing didn’t interest me (when I was old enough to remember much of anything, that is). In high school I entertained the notion for a while of following in my favorite uncle’s footsteps, and going into journalism for a career. But I enjoyed my math classes more than I did my English classes, and engineering won out for a career. The closest I came to journalism was to author a “Moments to Remember” piece that was published with our Yearbook when I graduated from Iola Junior College.
Even in the arcane world of engineering, my interest in writing was evident. At Bell Labs, my first job out of college, I published two technical papers. At Texas Instruments, we had to win all our government business by submitting huge, multi-volume technical proposals showing why we were best in the business. My talent for writing became quickly evident to my bosses, and I soon became responsible for creating those proposals. That involved a lot of technical writing, but it also involved editing (where we would “cut and paste” with scissors and Scotch tape). We published our proposals internally, so I also got a lot of experience at layout, printing and the merciless master of a drop-dead due date. And, along the way, I also published some more technical articles.
Still, little of that is what people have in mind when they talk about being a writer. Real “Writers” have their names on the front of books. For me, that came much later, as I was approaching retirement age. How that came about, what lead to my first novel and how I decided to get into self-publishing are all the subject of future posts.