Why write fiction?

The question I most frequently ask myself when writing fiction is: Why bother?

This is commonly followed up with: Who cares?

These two questions may seem like statements of doubt and self-loathing but… well, they are statements of doubt and self-loathing, but they’re also philosophical prompts in a way, like asking oneself what is the meaning of life. They’re unanswerable, and while they can lead my brain down a dark path that ends in a pit of soul-crushing despair, sometimes they can be quite motivating. Sometimes.

Let’s take that first one. Why bother. If I silently answer with a flippant ‘why not’, I know it’s time to step away from the keyboard and go for a run, or smush my face into one of my dogs’ warm bellies. ‘Why not’ is the response to watching a movie you have medium to low expectations for, or to being invited to eat at a chain restaurant. It certainly isn’t the reason to spend hours and months and years editing the same few thousand words over and over again.

The best reaction to this question for me is ‘I don’t know’. Because I truly don’t. I have read books and made up silly little stories in my head since I was a child, and that urge has never gone away. I have no idea why I want to write, or what I would do if I stopped. I also fear that if one day I am able to articulate exactly why I enjoy storytelling so much, that urge would weaken and disappear, like naming a demon during an exorcism.

Now for the second question. Who cares? If I immediately think ‘no one’, that’s a green light to carry on working. It means I can write without the burden of other people’s expectations and assumptions. No one may care right now, but when the novel is finished and out in the world, someone might.

If I conjure up the kind of fanbase I would like to have, I’d say that’s an amber light. It’s useful in the writing process to think of one’s reader as it helps to clarify the plot and improve pacing, but not to the extent of considering specific people. That’s the red light answer. If I think of a particular person reading my work – a friend, family member, another writer, a critic – that’s when I start to doubt myself and consider emulating past works rather than creating something new.

So why am I writing about these two questions? Because they surface every time I’m faced with a blank page, and writing a first blog post for a new website is the most blankest of pages. Every idea I had was faced with why bother, who cares?

I’m happy to report that I don’t know why I bother, and no one cares. Today has been an excellent writing day.

E.J. Babb