Why do you write, I am often asked. I too have pondered over this question quite a bit. Why does a writer write? Is it for earning his livelihood? Of course not. How many writers can make a living out of writing, especially in India? I think you can count them on your fingers. If I had to live on my writing I would have starved by now and this I think holds true for most writers.
Does a writer write to make money? Here too the answer is an emphatic no. Money may be a welcome corollary to writing but it can never be the main objective. Even if a writer is naïve enough and makes earning money his sole aim, he will fall flat on his face sooner than later. Except for the lucky(?) few like the Roys, Seths and Jhas how many writers actually end up making big money.
Does a writer write for fame? Hardly. How many writers are able to seduce the elusive lady we call fame? Just a handful. For the rest it is a seemingly endless tryst with anonymity.
If it is not for a living, for money or for fame, why the hell does a writer write? I think because he has to. And the compulsion is not from without, it is from within. Even if he doesn't get money, or name or fame he will write. Even if people think it’s a waste of time, even if his wife thinks he is a wastrel and his mother-in-law is sure he is insane, he will write. Even if he is starved of praise, his waste paper basket is full of rejection slips, and his friends think he is unreadable, he will write. Even if the world regards him as a failure and his writing as escapism he willwrite.
Here these immortal words of the celebrated writer George Orwell come to my mind, "All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some powerful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
I remember when we were young the society had a lot of respect for writers. They were treated with awe, respect and looked at with wonderment. Today if the writer does not have a foreign publisher and is not making more money on one book than R.K.Narayan made in his life time, he doesn't get a second look. Even if he gets one, it is more a look of commiseration than admiration. "He is a writer," you can hear people mumble. It is almost as if they were saying, "Poor fellow, he suffers from flatulence."
Many people think writing is fun or it is easy. All they see the writer doing is scribbling in his notebook or hammering away at the key board and more often than not staring out of the window or into space. They don't realize that for a writer there are no holidays. 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, it is work, backbreaking, gut wrenching, soul stirring work. Red Smith drives home this point when he says, "There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Gene Fowler puts it even better, “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until little drops of blood form on your forehead.”
My fellow writers if my words have left you feeling a trifle depressed and desolate, cheer up. Even if the world doesn't acknowledge you now, one day it will. Your words will live far longer than you. As Bud Gardner writes, "When you speak, your words echo only across the room or down the hall. But when you write, your words echo down the ages."
And finally let me end with these lovely words of Doris Lessing which pep me up whenever I am feeling down and out:
"……and it does not harm to repeat, as often as you can, "Without me the literary industry would not exist; the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the department of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages - all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronized, put down and underpaid person."