One reason to rule them all

I tend to avoid any article that begins with "Seven reasons…" on the presumption that it's clickbait, but this piece in Threepenny Review struck a chord with me. Seven Reasons Not to Write Novels and Only One Reason to Write Them starts off in the model of a rather familiar litany heard by aspiring writers. Don't write to be famous because you'll never be famous. Don't write to get rich because you'll never get rich. And so on.

The problem with this type of advice is twofold. First, these statements can be interpreted in two different ways: 1) Writing for fame is an illogical goal because you will almost certainly be disappointed vs 2) Don't bother writing, because the goal (fame) is unattainable. While most well-meaning advice-givers intend to convey meaning #1, the castigating tone of their advice makes it sound like they're dumping #2 on us. 

Second, there's no point in telling people not to write. All writers understand that they won't be famous; they just don't believe it. I find it unfathomable that any writer would discourage another because of the possibility of failure. I was once part of an online discussion in which an aspiring musician asked a group why he should continue playing guitar after coming to the realization that he was at best mediocre at the instrument. One person advised him to give up because the world didn't need another lousy guitar player. That really bothered me. If I could, I would give everyone an instrument and encourage them all to play badly together every opportunity they had. 

What really jumped out at me about this piece was the one humble reason to write, which resonated vividly with my own experience. I'm about to spoil it for you, sort of, so you're duly warned. Writing allows me to exist simultaneously in an alternate world, caring and fussing endlessly over the lives of people who become as real to me as men and women I've known in the real world. It's a dream made nearly real, shaped subtly by my daily existence yet strangely impermeable to my manipulation. I order and shape it, but I'm no more in control of it than I am my own life.  

There are days when I see a bit too much suffering in the back of the ambulance. The worlds in which I write offer no respite. Far from it; I've found that the stories I tell resonate with that suffering, sometimes refining and amplifying it. They serve as a place for me to reframe the inevitable questions and grasp at some elusive meaning. Maybe the answers are fictional. Maybe I'm stacking the deck to help make sense of a chaotic, uncaring universe. Maybe a story is nothing but a skein of lies. I understand that, but I don't quite believe it.