Who We Are and Why We Do What We Do: An Author’s Explanation

March 25, 2015

Most people who don’t write think they have a basic understanding of what it is to be a writer. A writer writes books. A writer toils over her manuscript. A writer tells stories. A writer uses her imagination.

 

Though these things are true of writers, it hardly scrapes the surface of what being a writer really means. Given the long hours, possible misery, minimal praise, and general neurosis that comes of living the writing life, maybe it’s time we talk a little about what’s so fantastic about being a writer, and why we crazies are so intent on following this crooked and meandering path.

 

We are Explorers

 

As writers, we get to explore parts of the world others only dream about. From the safety of our desks we wander dripping jungle paths, sail around the world, fight in battles long lost or won, venture into outer space, and so much more. The experience of researching and writing about foreign lands and the near or distant past is far more engulfing than simply reading about them. In writing these scenes we have to imagine not only what it would be like to be there, but what everything in the environment would look and smell and taste like. We have to explore every nook and cranny of the place until we known it off by heart. And if we’re lucky, we get to travel to these places in our real lives to explore them in person. Talk about a job perk.

 

We are Psychologists

 

In order to make the emotional lives of our characters realistic, we writers have to delve deep into their imaginary psyches. We need to understand the emotional repercussions of a traumatic childhood event, or a betrayal, or the loss of a job. To be any good at this, we have to become amateur psychologists and put our budding characters through therapy. This focus on understanding the feelings of our characters might even make us better at understanding ourselves (or at least at psychoanalyzing our friends!).

 

We are Painters

 

Describing a scene in prose is a lot like being an artist. Like a painter, the writer decides where each piece of furniture should be in the scene, what colour of shirt the character will wear, whether it will be morning or night, winter or summer, the country and the time period and the atmosphere. Trying to capture someone’s essence in a painted portrait is so similar to writing a character. In both cases a person is brought to life.

 

We are Experts

 

Research is the name of the game for any writer who wants their book to be accurate. Over the course of writing a novel, an author may have to become an expert about the plant life in rural Arizona, the course load of a sophomore college art student, the rate of decomposition of a human body, the best method to build an igloo, and Hungarian grammar. We need to be experts on any and everything our characters would know, should know, or might learn. We have to know it all!

 

We are Psychics

 

Authors can see the future. We know what will happen on the last page. We know who he slept with before his wife does. We know who the killer is. We know who set fire to the house. We know if he’s going to graduate, and whether she’ll ever find love. We know she’s having twins. We know when everyone will die. We know it all.

 

We are Gods

 

Want to know why authors go through all the trouble of writing a book? We do it because we get to explore the planet (or other planets), delve into the human mind, paint the world, know it all, and see the future. We do it because there’s nothing like creating a story, a life, a world. We do it because to be a writer is to be a God. An Underpaid, overworked, sleep-deprived, misunderstood God, but a God none the less. We Are Gods. And don’t you forget it.

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