Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Why do I write?

Do you ever wonder about the value of what you do day by day? I mean, do you question if you’re adding to the greater good. When I was director of TCU Press, it was pretty easy: I was publishing books, and one of the goals of an academic press is to add to the existing body of knowledge. So I was making a dent in ignorance, albeit pretty small.

But now I’ve retired and am writing mysteries. How does that contribute to the greater good? You can’t say my books are great literature—pure escape reading, they make no claim to lasting fame. But I might make a case that I provide just that—an escape, however temporary, to a new world free from the problems that distract you in your daily life. Mark Twain wrote for the satisfaction of having written, which may well be partly true of me. In short, I write because I cannot not write.

But writing mysteries has caused me a problem. I too used to read cozies an escape. Now I have become a critical reader. I don’t get as lost in a story as I used to—you know that feeling of being reluctant to read the last chapter because you don’t want to leave the world of the book? Now I’m a critical reader, thinking “I wouldn’t have had that happen here” or “I’d give this character more distinctive traits.” Even, “I’d write this character—or scene—out of the book.” I’m sure any mystery authors who read my books feel the same way.

Of course there are books that leave me in awe of the creativity and care that went into plotting such an intricate story, the skill with words, the ability to have characters walk off the page and into my life. Those books contribute something to my life and so, I suppose, to other lives.

But I sure have my moments of wondering what I’m doing. It’s a lot of work, but maybe if I reach one reader a day it’s worth it. And if I keep myself busy and actively engaged in the world, so much the better. It’s a way of keeping time’s winged chariot far behind me.

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