Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write

Ellen Hartman

This is a blog I wrote a long time ago. I posted it on my own blog way back then, but since very few people other than my dad read my blog, I don't think it will be too familiar to folks. I'm bringing it back because I was at a book store last night with my friend and critique partner, Leslie Daniels, talking about writing. Our talk was called "Writing and Publishing (or Love and Money)." The talk got me thinking about why I write. Leslie likes to make stuff up, that's part of why she writes. (I think. I didn't ask her.)

I write because it’s tidy.

No, not the process. The process sucks. My writing process is a horrendous disaster involving way too many stimulants (all unhealthy although not, in my case, illegal), way too little sleep, and way too much self-doubt and bad temper. (Plus a little euphoria but I’m on a woe-is-me kick here so I won’t be admitting to that.)

The tidiness comes in when I take life--big scrambles of human emotion and chaos--and sort it out on paper. I can count on my books to have happy endings. The villains get theirs, the hero and heroine get some, and my psyche is at peace knowing that these people, the fictional ones, will do what I tell them when I tell them to do it.

Non-fictional people do not respond to me in this way. They persist in leading their own messy lives, making bad decisions, living with ambiguity, and even, at times, settling for settling instead of striving for their Happily Ever After. Blech. Who wants to spend their time with people like that?

The characters I write follow the three-act structure. They’re not only familiar with the hero’s journey, they live it, in perfect structural order, every time. When I provide the fictional people with a brilliant insight into their motivations, for example, “You can’t commit because your mom screwed you up when she left home in 1979,” they not only get what I’m saying, they change accordingly. Their fictional black moments end after a reasonable amount of time, instead of stretching on for years or decades or entire lifetimes.

Maybe if I were able to get myself a job as the dictator of a small country I would give up writing. Dictators no doubt get a lot of opportunities to tidy the lives of real people—for example, they can dictate that today is National Confront Your Insecurities Day and next Wednesday is National Stop Dating The Wrong Guy/Girl Day.

But until that happy time when I manage to seize power, and as long as real life remains sticky, ambiguous, and full of people who don’t do as I tell them to do, I’ll write. And I’ll be happy while I’m doing it.

(Had to get that happily ever after in there.)

So that's it. Why I write...or at least one of the reasons I write.

What about you? If you're a writer, what is the thing that keeps you going? If you're not a writer, what is your passion and why does it captivate you?

If you don't feel like being serious, how about this...imagine you are the dictator of a small country. What's your new national holiday? Chocolate Day? National Teens Speak Politely to Their Mothers Day? National The Media May Not Mention Lindsay Lohan Day?

One lucky commenter will win an Amazon gift card and a copy of Married by June.


Snookie said...

Ellen, I love your sense of humor! It definitely shows in your writing. :) If I were dictator of a small country it would have to have beaches. I'd have a national paid holiday once a month where people could do whatever they wanted and get paid. In return, they would have to volunteer one day a month helping kids and families in need of help (food, clothing, shelter, schooling, etc.)

Mary Preston said...

I can absolutely imagine myself a Dictator of a small country. I rule my own modest realm now, or am I merely deluded? I would not just have A DAY - I would expect everyday to be "bow before me inferior mortals" day.

linda s said...

Oh, the power of the pen, perfectly aligning the stars. I can see the universe swirling to serve up the HEA.

If I were a dictator I would make food free so no one would be hungry. I think that's beyond the power of a fictional work - maybe a fantasy. I have a compulsion to feed every person who tells me they haven't eaten for days.

I ejoyed Married by June. Thanks for a great read.

Unknown said...

I feel like Linda. If I was a Dictator, I would see that no one went hungrey or had to sleep out if the cold. I would see that there were more place for the homeless to go to get warm, sleep, and have food. There are so many people today that are without the things they really need.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Snookie,

I'm glad you liked this piece. I love entertaining people. I guess that's another reason why I write.

So...beaches + more vacation time + helping kids? I will happily move to your dictatorship. Let me know when you have it set up. ;-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Marybelle,

It's much too early here for me to be laughing out loud. I startled the dog. ;-)

Thanks for the morning cheer...does this make you a benevolent dictator?

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Linda S,

I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed Married by June. I read part of it last night at the book event, and it reminded me how much fun I had writing about Jorie and Cooper.

I like your fantasy world very much. My husband has the same impulse you do to feed people. We all need more people like you in our lives. I'd live under your generous dictatorship. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Virginia,

Now I think our Super Community really should take over the world. We'd be in a better place. Your vision of universal food and shelter is so perfectly decent. I hope we get there for real.

Kaelee said...

If I was a dictator I would have a count your blessings day every day. I think so much good would come out of everyone having a positive attitude.

I also would like the news to reflect some of the good things going on instead of all the bad things. I think that for every murder robbery etc there should be a story about fun happy things as well. It would put balance into the world.

Bullying would be outlawed.

Thanks for a great post Ellen. I love your efforts to keep your fictional characters in line.

Jo's Daughter said...

I only dictate that everyone should eat lots of chocolate and reads romance novels on a daily basis :D No seriously, I wouldn't dictate anything. Take people as they are, or not at all. Let everyone's (real) life be their own.

I like to make things myself. Homemade happiness is my passion.

Cooking, sewing, baking, taking pictures, cross stitching, making paper cards, knitting, etc etc.
And writing on my blog all about it. That's what I love to do.

JV said...

There's a very ugly part of me that is wringing my hands together and shouting "Bwahahaha! I have all the power!" at the thought of being a dictator. I'm with marybelle in that I don't think I'd have too many single "days", but there would be many new rules.

For example, after seeing so many recent examples of child abuse and neglect in the news, I would decree that anyone wanting to have a child must get my permission first. I would deny the privilege to those who are too self-centered, mean, or otherwise incapable of raising a child with a proper amount of love and care. (I might have to have top scientists working on ways to enforce this.) Same goes for pet ownership. If you're not going to take care of them properly, you don't get one. Period.

I'd probably require marginal drivers to call and have me approve their routes before leaving home to insure that they wouldn't be clogging up the interstate during rush hour by doddering along at 30 MPH or, alternately, endangering everyone by tailgating and recklessly zipping in and out of traffic at 20+ MPH over the speed limit with their hands on the horn the whole way.

Unfortunately, I can hear the drums of a coup d'├ętat beating even as I write this, but, oh the power would be sweet while I had it! Maybe I should try writing fiction instead.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen! When I read your post, angels sang, I swear. Not because I've always wanted to be a dictator, but because we must be writing twins. :) Everything you said about why you write is why I write, but you articulate it better than I ever could. In my story world, I can right all the wrongs of the world the way *I* think it should be done. There's no shortage of witty comebacks, which in life, is sadly not true - for me, at least.

Also, my process sucks too. I'm thrilled to learn I'm not alone. I was sure I was doing something wrong. Thanks for the great post!!

mary sullivan said...

Ellen, I'm in perfect harmony with you. It's so great to be able to get people to do what you want them to do, even if they are only fictional ;-)

As a dictator, I would make AT LEAST one day a year, Today Everyone is Equal and We ALL Deserve the Best Day. Naive, I know, but wouldn't it be nice?

Mary Brady said...

Wait! I'm not a dictator? You mean I have to let that man and that young man have their own opinion from time to them?

LOL, Ellen, your oldie is a goodie. I think I write to get some of the stuff out of my head and onto paper so the world inside my head can be more orderly. Doesn't work, but I get books out of it.

Marcie said...

I write because I get crabby if I don't.

And if I had a small country - I would have Take Your Negative Self Elsewhere Day. Not sure if I'll offer transportation. Well maybe a swift kick in the you-know-what to help them on their way.

Kristina Mathews said...

These posts are great. If only women were in charge of the world...

I write because I'm over 40 and I've reached the stage where I don't have to deny my true self anymore.

I also like making life work the way it's "supposed to." The good guys win, love triumphs and sex is always satisfying and happily eaver after is a given.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hello all of my little dictatorial friends. I see we've had a busy morning running the world!

Kaelee--I like count your blessings day. We say one thing we're thankful for during grace at dinner time. It would be excellent if the entire world shifted focus to the positive!

Ellen Hartman said...

Jo's Daughter--I like your attitude.

I don't know why I didn't realize that you had a blog, but when you mentioned it, I clicked on the link. The very first post made me smile. I loved the teacup of flowers and your visitor is just adorable!

I like your first impulse to dictate reading and chocolate, but your second idea is a good one, too.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi JV,

I love your comment. If you take up fiction writing, I think I'd enjoy your style. ;-)

I'm in agreement on the kids and pets dictating you have planned. Anything we can do to make life sweeter for the little ones is worth doing.

I'm smiling at the image of you in your dictator uniform--some kind of hat seems necessary, no?--taking calls and directing traffic. Too funny.

Ignore those drums you hear...carry on with reforming the world!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Kat,

Writing is a good way to "fix" things, isn't it? So many of the characters I've written have been informed by an emotion I've experienced. The fictional aspect gives me all the freedom I need to explore the issue in new ways and then solve it. Hmmm. Writing vs. therapy??? ;-)

I did a blog post one time about my "process" and actually included pictures of the sticky notes and scary piles of horror involved. It was kind of funny to put it all out there in public.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Mary,

Your dictatorship would be perfect for all the younger siblings in the world. I remember when my sister was little and I'd done something to bother her, she'd say, "When I'm big and you're little, you'll be sorry."

Heh. She got taller, but I'm still the big sister in all the ways that matter. Anyway, she'd have loved your Everyone is Equal day. ;-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Mary--I love your reason for writing. Keeping an orderly mind is a good goal!

P.S. If your ideas are better than everyone else's you're under no obligation to let them have opinions. They're better off following you! ;-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Marcie--your post made me laugh.

I like a dictator who has good ideas AND pays attention to details like appropriate transportation schemes.


Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Kristina--I love your outlook. Way to go!

This is perfect:

The good guys win, love triumphs and sex is always satisfying and happily ever after is a given.


Ellen Hartman said...

It's funny. This is not the conversation I expected to have after this blog, but it's so wonderful. Funny, charming, thoughtful, and so good.

I love the way this community puts their creativity and heart into every comment stream. Thanks very much for enriching my day!

runner10 said...

I am not a writer. I love to run. It helps me escape the stress of the day.

Na said...

Thank you for sharing about why you write. I do believe it's important to have a passion, whether for writing or for anything you do to really be able to dedicate to it and still keep doing it in the long run. Everyone has their own process and that it what will guide them. Funny, though even a process can be a WIP in itself :)

Rogenna Brewer said...

I'd love to rule a small island :)

Rogenna Brewer said...

Of course Libyan officials are reporting their dictator is dead. So maybe we all want to rethink this dictatorship business ;)

Beth Andrews said...

Ellen, I loved reading about why you write! Having that type of control over characters and situations is definitely part of the reason I write. It's a thrill when I get to the end of a book and think, "Hey, that's not too bad. And look, these people may be messed up but dang it, you gave them a Happily Ever After."


I watched The Chew while on the treadmill and am now craving banana pudding. So, my national holiday would be Banana Pudding Day! Break out the 'Nilla wafers *g*

Ellen Hartman said...

Beth--I am not a fan of banana flavored anything. (Except actual bananas. I like them in their unadulterated form.) Oddly enough, I was out to dinner on Monday (my son turned 15!!!!) and was very tempted to order banana cream pie.

I resisted because I really wouldn't have liked it, but why was I drawn to it? Is this what it would be like for me in your Banana Dessert Empire?

P.S. I had a hot fudge brownie sundae. Yum.

Ellen Hartman said...

Ro--would your small island perhaps be large enough for a small guest house? Maybe with a small hammock and a small glass for a small umbrella drink?

I'd be a good guest, promise!

Ellen Hartman said...

Na--I like what you said about a process as a WIP. Gives me hope. ;-)

But it's definitely true. As I learn more and have more experiences, my process for writing changes, for sure.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Runner,

I got a puppy this spring and I've gotten addicted to our evening walk.

We're lucky enough to live on the shore of one of the Finger Lakes. My son, who started high school this year, is on the crew team. They row out on the lake every day after school. He told me how much it relaxes him. I'm so terrifically grateful he's getting a physical outlet in a gorgeous setting. It makes a difference in the entire day, doesn't it?

Jane said...

Another dictator fell today, so I don't want to imagine being one even for a day. I'm all for Chocolate Day.

Ellen Hartman said...

Chocolate Day! \o/

Where do I apply for my passport to your realm, Jane?

Joan Kilby said...

Ellen, now that Gaddafi's gone I hear there's an opening in Libya. Or, maybe not. Maybe they've had enough of dictators for a while. Although the Libyan people might like the sound of some of the worlds conjured here.

I write because my head would explode from all the stories and characters jostling around in there if I didn't get them down on paper.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen -

I like your holiday suggestions. Mine would be a n extra day off each month for each pet you have.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Joan,

Thanks for the tip about the possible job opening. I think I'll hold off on sending my resume--fictional dictating is much more my speed.

I love your reason for writing. I think you're the second one who mentioned having an overstuffed imagination. That's a good problem to have, right?

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Tammy,

I like your idea. We have four hermit crabs, a gerbil, and a dog. I'm going to be off work for more than a week every month!!!

Let me know when the new system is in place. ;-)

Beth Andrews said...

Ellen, Happy Birthday to your son! I hadn't realized we had kids of similar age - my youngest is 14 :-)

Is this what it would be like for me in your Banana Dessert Empire?

Yes. Everyone would have to order banana flavored desserts. Bananas Foster (yum! And you can light it on fire!) Banana bread. Banana milkshakes (my uncle owned a restaurant and I always got banana milkshakes) my husband's favorite banana bars with cream cheese frosting.

But, just to mix it up every once in a while we'd have a National Hot Fudge Sundae Day, too ;-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Maybe we should bring the kids to RWA together some year. They can be a teenage focus group. ;-)

Hmm. I forgot about banana bread. I do like that. Okay, I'll either have that on Banana Dessert Day or I'll arrange to be out of the country and jet back home in time for Hot Fudge Sundae day.


EllenToo said...

I missed this yesterday but I really enjoyed reading it as well as the comments today. I have just one thing to say..... for whatever reason you write I am very glad you do. Keep up the writing and I'll just keep reading.

JV said...


"I love your comment. If you take up fiction writing, I think I'd enjoy your style. ;-)"

That's among the nicest things anyone has said to me. Thanks!

JV said...

Oh, and yes, a hat of course! I'll have to search far and wide for one, though, since I can never find a hat that doesn't make me look goofy. Some people really wear a hat with style and grace. Me? I look like a doofus. And we won't even talk about hat-hair once the hat comes off.

And about those drums... I don't know. I might have to rethink this whole dictator business. I'd hate to be shot and have my body carted around. That side of dictatorship doesn't look too appealing.

I once heard that someone (perhaps even one of the framers of our own constitution) said the very best form of government would be a benevolent dictatorship. Unfortunately, complete power and benevolence don't usually make good bedfellows.

Too bad, really. With all the bickering in Congress and getting nothing accomplished, a wise and benevolent dictator might be just the ticket.

Jackie S. said...

I would like to see more funds for shelters here that have to close for a month or so until they get more funds! It is sad when they can't reach out to help people because of no funds coming in from fortunate people and/or clubs, churches.
I have read Married by June, Ellen, and loved it.

Donya P said...

I still haven't figured out why I write. I don't know if it is the love of creating, or just wanting to get the voices in my head to shut up. LOL!

Sarah Tanner said...

Great post, Ellen.

I like writing because I like having written. :D

First drafts are a slog. Second drafts can be frustrating but with moments of intense satisfaction. Third (and subsequent) drafts are where it's at for me. I love polishing my work, and watching it develop into a (hopefully) smooth finished product.

I spent many years starting projects only to abandon them after a few chapters. It wasn't until I signed up for NaNoWriMo in 2009 that I (a) finished a book and (b) accepted my first drafts are a hot mess. Since NaNo, I've completed two further books and I'm revising a third.

Ellen Hartman said...

Ellen--I loved the comments on this thread, too. The folks around here are always, always entertaining. ;-)

Ellen Hartman said...

JV--I meant it. I always find the things you write to be full of heart, funny, and insightful.

As to the hat head is a funny shape, sort of a rectangle, I think. Hats don't work on me either. BUT if you were in charge, you could get something custom-made, and you could dictate either that no one else could wear it or that everyone else had to. (Which kind of proves your point about power and corruption. I'm already sliding downhill.)


Ellen Hartman said...

Jackie--your thoughts are so true. Hard times are exactly when we need more help, not less. I hope this one comes true even without one of us taking over the world.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Donya--How are you? Good, I hope.

I know what you mean. I write for lots of reasons, too. Being creative is definitely one of them. It's a great stress release to just let my mind loose on something.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Sarah,

You could probably make a ton of money if you could bottle that lesson and sell it to people. I was really, really far into my "wanting to be a writer" life before I ever finished a book. It's hard, but the satisfaction is amazing, isn't it.

I like revising best. Love it, actually.

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