Why do you write? It’s unlikely to be a ‘sensible’ reason. No one writes because they want to make money, or be famous, or at least they don’t keep writing for long. Is it because the words burn in your brain? Is it because the story pervades every angle of perception – when you listen to music, or watch TV, or dream? Is it because when you connect two details of plot to make a beautiful new perfect arc, there is no pleasure in the world quite like it?
All of the above?
Actually putting the words down on the page isn’t particularly thrilling in itself. It’s frequently frustrating, in fact, when the right word stays just around the corner of thought or the dialogue is clunky because it’s coming into your brain so fast that you just need to get it down on the page. But that lightbulb moment – ‘the guy she dumped back in high-school could totally be the police officer she needs information from, to create an interesting dynamic AND cut down on the number of incidental characters’ – is what drives the pleasure. It’s a burst of revelation, satisfaction in the neatness and (let’s be honest) just a touch of smugness in our own creative intelligence.
That’s the carrot, and they’re fairly rare. The stick is compulsion. The inability to think straight if a sentence or conversation or concept is at the forefront of your mind; the feeling that your identity is slipping away beneath the imperative of the story, and the only survival mechanism is to get it out of your head and onto paper. That’s not rare at all, but in it’s absence my writing habits become much more lax. Which is probably what separates me from the professionals.
It’s not the abstract telling of a story, or the act of typing. It’s serendipity and compulsion. Stick and carrot.