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Why Do You Write What You Write?

Bobbi JG Weiss 1/29/14


            Why do you write?

            In my last blog I discussed the importance of answering this question. The answer can help us develop as writers and, in general, as creative human beings.

            So — why do you write what you write? Gritty mystery novels, non-rhyming poetry, magazine articles, blogs, TV commercials, radio news reports, soap operas, tech reviews, memoirs, sitcoms, joke books, war histories, feature animation, whatever. Perhaps a mix. Doesn’t matter. Why have you chosen your particular form of writing? Well, that’s just an extension of the question, “Why do you write?” Right?

            I’ll take a stab in the dark here and say that most novelists write novels because they like the depth of story and characterization that the format allows. For poets, it may be just the opposite — they’re challenged by how much they can say in the most concise length. Magazine article writers probably like variety. Journalists want to inform. Movie writers have this bizarre desire to live in Los Angeles. (Yes, that’s a joke. Actually, I LOVE L.A. Go fig.)

            Anyway, by extending the question “Why do you write?” into “Why do you write what you write?” you can learn even more about yourself, about your interests and goals, about your true abilities and drawbacks, and about your career plan. (Yes, at some point you’ll need a writing career plan, but that’s another blog for another day.)

            As with my previous blog, I can’t answer “Why do you write what you write?” for you. But I can offer facts about my own career to show you why that question and its answers are so important.

            My “day job” writing has been mostly TV oriented. I have a long resume of TV series tie-in books and other product because I have always loved Hollywood. But Hollywood is such a huge place with so much going on that I need to narrow it down a bit. To do that, I need to answer the question, “Why do I want to specialize in TV-oriented writing?”

            Fame. That’s one answer. No no, I’m not famous, but Hollywood is. By writing tie-in products, I’m rubbing elbows with that fame, as it were. I’m not afraid to admit that I have an ego. I should, it’s big enough. (Remember my stint in acting, where fame is the game.)

            I also prefer TV-oriented writing because as a child, my fantasy life was fueled by TV shows. That’s common enough. For me, the biggie was (drumroll) Star Trek! I’m talking the original dorky costumes-made-from-egg-cartons Star Trek. That show marks the beginning of my professional career, in a way. I loved it so much I would watch an episode then immediately sit down with paper and pencil and write the script down. That is, I wrote it down as well as I could remember it, all the action, the dialog, everything from beginning to end. Because I was just a kid, I didn’t realize that I had made up possibly the best writing exercise ever. Vomiting those episodes back up right after watching them forced me to analyze plot structure, character motivation, pacing and dialog just by the act of trying to remember it all. It was hard, but it was great fun. It was also personally important to me, because there was no way to record TV back then. If I wanted to revisit an episode, all I had was my own memory until the reruns came six months later. So when I wrote them down, I put all my energy into it.     

           Thirty years later I got the opportunity to write actual Star Trek novels and other Star Trek merchandise. So here’s another reason why I write what I write — because I know the material inside and out. Write what you know. Oh, I hate that phrase, too, but there is some truth in it!

           Another reason why I wrote Star Trek novels is because I like tie-in novels in general. I loved to read them when I was a kid. I am so embarrassed to admit this, but I used to read the tie-in novels of The Partridge Family. The freakin’ Partridge Family! (I had a crush on David Cassidy, which is really weird, because just this morning I read that he was arrested for drunken driving. I guess he knew I was going to mention him in my blog.)

           I wasn’t allowed much money as a kid, so when I wanted a book, I either had to really save for it, beg until my mom almost killed me, or wait for Christmas. But one saving grace of grade school was the Scholastic school book program. I don’t remember exactly what it was called, and I’m not sure it exists anymore, but Scholastic used to send a monthly brochure to schools, and kids could order books and receive them in school weeks later.

           Whenever my parents gave me permission to order a Star Trek book, it was a BIG THING. I’m not talking big thing or even Big Thing. I mean BIG THING. I was so desperate for them, I was so possessive of them, that I will never forget the day I hit a boy because he touched my brand new Star Trek paperback novel that I had just gotten from the Scholastic program. For some reason, the teacher was out of the room, and this kid teased me about how crazed I was over the show — I don’t recall the exact details. But he touched the book. It was laying on my school desk, and he touched it, I think just with his finger, just to annoy me. I went berserk and smacked him. I was a nerd, a quiet person, a goody-goody student type, but in the name of my Star Trek tie-in novel, I whacked that kid in front of everybody.

           Kirk would have been proud of me. Spock, not so much.

           Either way, you can see that my resume has a big, thick, neon-red link to my interests as a child. Perhaps it’s the same for you, perhaps not. But when you ask yourself, “Why do you write what you write?” be sure to really think about it. You might conjure up memories that will inspire you, reignite a passion in you, or urge you to look in writing directions you might not have thought of recently.

           Now let’s step back for a moment. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, “Why do you write?” and “Why do you write what you write?” Let’s say your life circumstances change. Maybe you graduate, or get married, or have a baby, or move, or develop an illness. When something in life forces change, your writing will also change. The change may be little or big, but when the intrinsic YOU changes, what you create usually follows. It’s more difficult to ask “Why do you write?” and “Why do you write what you write?” when circumstances spin out of your control. But if you want to keep writing, you must do it. Here’s an example:

           I no longer live in Los Angeles and thus, I no longer work as much in my beloved TV-oriented field. Why? My answer is a painful one: I have asthma. I simply can’t live there anymore. I lived there for ten years, and during that time, I ended up in the hospital Emergency room several times unable to breathe. You wanna talk terror? That’s it.

           So now I live nearby, a mile up in the National Forest. I can still drive to LA, so I still have access. But here’s the bugger of the thing — even though I’m close, I’m just far enough away that I can’t make last-minute meetings, I can’t “do lunch” as easily, I no longer bump into associates in stores or restaurants and get off-the-cuff work offers — in short, the move hurt my career. I still have work, but not as much. It’s very depressing, let me tell you.

           But on the flip side, I now have time to write original novels. In my previous blog I mentioned Hooked, the dark fantasy novel that I’m self-publishing in a couple of months. That sucker took me twenty years to write. Why? I was busy making a living doing all that media-oriented writing. Believe me, no matter how much you love to write, the last thing you want to do after a long hard day of writing is more writing. I just couldn’t do it. So Hooked languished. Since moving up here, I’ve had time to finally finish it. And I have about five books next in line.

           So why do I write what I write now? Because of my health. I’m hoping that I’ll get rich some day, and then I can have a condo in LA with an air purifier. Then I can live in both places and write both things. Heaven!

            Why do you write? Why do you write what you write? Be honest with yourself and the answers may surprise you.

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