Now that's a pretty bold statement, one likely to inspire cynical snickers. This is both expected and understandable. After all, such statements have become terrifyingly trite. I cannot think of a more contagious cliché than “writing merely for the love of writing.” It’s a noble sentiment, isn’t it? In some sense, it’s the ultimate writer virtue signal, which is likely why so many writers express the platitude on their author blogs, blog tours, author interviews, etc. It's also a good lifeboat to cling to if your writing never goes anywhere in the world.
At the risk of being judgmental, I believe success and fame remain the primary motivations behind most writing being produced today. This applies especially to all the mimics who chase the latest fads and trends hoping their version of the latest sadomasochistic, love-sick zombie-vampire saga will be the next Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. When such writers announce they do it for the love of writing, I exhale a snort of disbelief myself. But once again, who am I to judge? I once entertained notions of becoming successful in the materialist/hedonistic sense, and I hold nothing against writers who pursue success and fame through their work. After all, Samuel Johnson once quipped, “No man but a blockhead wrote except for money.”
It took me many years to realize I was a blockhead, and I personally know a few other writers who sincerely do not write primarily for fame or wealth. Like me, these writers haven't attained any notable level of fame or wealth; nevertheless, they plug away at their stuff all the same and seem content in having the chance to produce work and get it out there. And I'll give the benefit of doubt to other writers who write stories about people and places that will likely never capture the attention of the masses.
The question is - why? Why would a person write if they didn't harbor dreams of hitting it big?
I cannot speak for other writers, but in my case the answer is rather straightforward. For me, writing is primarily an exercise in thinking, an expression of intuition, a forming of impressions, a way to access innate knowledge, and to bring this innate knowledge into to reality so that it may meet reality. In my case, this “creative act” is a far more important matter than the dissemination or eventual success or failure of my creation in the world in any material sense.
In a way, you could say I write primarily for myself, and there is some truth to this. I consider my writing successful if it allows me to participate in creation through a sincere expression of my personality – my real self.
My personality/real self is a microcosm of the universe. I consider my writing successful when this microcosm encounters the macrocosm - the universal-infinite and the individual-particular meet. I find this process meaningful. That is, I derive meaning from it.
I hard time establishing this when I made careerism and the acquisition of worldly laurels the prime motivation for my writing.
Then why bother publishing? Why not just write privately and keep the work to yourself?
This is a good question. From the age of nineteen to twenty-nine, I strove to write for money. Back then, I had no intentions of being a blockhead. I invested a considerable amount of time and effort into “trying to make it” as a writer. I submitted novels I had written to publishers, wrote short stories for magazines, and entered writing contests in the hope of making a name for myself.
Though I experienced some minor successes, I never achieved any notable breakthrough. When I turned thirty, I became a blockhead and relegated my writing to the private sphere. For nearly a decade, I kept my writing to myself. Though I continued to write, I made no effort to publish. Before I turned forty, I began writing The City of Earthly Desire. After I finished this book, I decided to put it out in the world. Knowing it stood little chance of being accepted by traditional publishers, I self-published it and made some half-hearted attempts to market it.
I am not sure why I decided to publish the novel – it was just something I felt I ought to do. I had no illusions about the book being successful, but I went through phases where I attempted to draw attention to it in the hopes it might catch the public’s eye. I have since abandoned these attempts to impose my will upon the world and “make” my novel a “success.” Whether my writing is successful or not is not really important to me at this stage in my life. Simply put, I am content to be a blockhead.
What is important to me is that my writing fulfills me. That is, that I find the act of writing fulfilling.
And I do find writing fulfilling. And that is why I do it. That is why I have always done it.
Of course, those who cannot grasp this believe what I have noted above is little more than wish fulfillment.
So be it.
Regardless, success in publishing is irrelevant in this sense because I find fulfillment and meaning in lieu of success, and I am unsure what, if anything, “success” could add to this sense of fulfillment and meaning. Perhaps nothing.
Thus, publishing success is not my primary motivation for writing. In my experience and contrary to Johnson's blockhead dictum, the best "successful" writers have not always been driven by aspirations for wealth and fame through publication. Perhaps Charles Bukowski is a good example this kind of writer.
My favorite Bukowski poems are the ones that deal with his creative process - the sitting down at the desk late at night, the turning on of the classical music on the radio, the opening of a bottle of wine, the lighting of a cigarette, the kissing of the typewriter, and finally, the act of creation itself. The sheer joy, the fulfillment Bukowski expresses when he describes how he crafted his poems is almost religious in nature. The poems themselves were not the priority – fulfillment was.
Of course, Bukowski eventually went on to attain a high level of "success" in his lifetime and his poems are still in print all over the world. Oddly enough, his descriptions of his publishing success do not rival his descriptions of writing itself. In fact, he coldly dismisses his published work. It is secondary to him, as shown in the quote below:
"But, bottom line, when I write, it's for me. (He draws a deep drag off his cigarette.) It's like this. The 'drag' is for me, the ash is for the tray... that's publication."
And that’s how I have come to feel about the whole thing, too.