I’m a glutton for punishment. For example, I’ve often lost as many as 57 games in a row playing the Chinese game Ma Jong with my family. Likewise, I’ve recently been playing an economic board game called Caton with my wife and eldest daughter. Out of nearly thirty games I’ve only won twice. I have good strategies, but my wife and daughter have better strategies.
And then there’s the sport of Judo. I studied Jujitsu and Judo in college. Out of a 100+ matches in college and afterward, I only won ten times. Now you could call that persistence and you’d be right, but when you’re getting your ass slammed into a mat or your body twisted up like a pretzel or getting the wind choked out of you, maybe it’s just stupidity or insanity.
The same thing’s true for writing. There are writers out there that claim they have to write, that if they don’t, their soul will wither and die. And while writing can be an addiction, it’s really a choice. After all, who wants an addiction where others can beat the snot out of you all the time?
Well, that’s where masochism comes in, isn’t it?
However, I’m not a masochist. I do not enjoy pain. I do not enjoy suffering pain and I do not enjoy inflicting pain. (Well, maybe a little. There’s a little bit of sadism in almost every artist and writer. But usually, only a little bit.)
Expressing yourself is good for the psyche. You can be an artist, a dancer, a comedian, a writer, a photographer, a film maker, a singer, a song writer, a musician, an acrobat, a gymnast, an athlete, an actor, the list is endless. But it’s more of a desire to express yourself than a need or an addiction. It’s a desire to be seen and to let the world know that you exist.
Sometimes, though, our desires do not match up with who we really need to be or what we really need to do. In the 1920s, there was a young man who left his home behind in the United States and moved to Paris, France, to hobnob with the great writers there, the so-called ex-patriots. He really, really, really wanted to be a writer. It was his heart’s desire.
He spent a year in Paris, hanging out with the great writers of that time. And he spent every day staring at the blank piece of paper in his typewriter. After a year, he returned home, having had nothing to say, nothing to write about. He was heartbroken.
Back in the States, a friend gave him a camera. His friend had bought a new camera and didn’t need the old one. So the young man started taking pictures. He came into his own during the Great Depression, taking those iconic photographs of farmers staring blankly at the camera while standing in front their barns. Of shabby dressed people standing in front of barren fields or their houses, with little hope, struggling to get by, living day-by-day, just surviving.
My path to being a writer was the reverse of that young man. I started as a photographer. I wanted to tell stories in pictures. But while I had excellent photography skills, I didn’t have any stories to tell. So I went back to college to get a degree in journalism so I could get work with a newspaper or news magazine. Along the way, I found that I loved words more than photographs.
You see, I wanted to create images with words rather than with film or, as nowadays, electronically.
But I didn’t want to be a reporter. So I specialized in copy editing. However, the year I graduated, the print industry laid off thousands of copy editors because the computer could do it all. The print industry has since found that the computer can’t do it all.
Still, I interviewed a lot of people over the years and got those interviews published in various newsletters and newspapers. See, while people think the camera never lies and can tell it all, it can’t tell it all. And it depends upon how a photo is edited as to whether the photo lies or not. For instance, that guy that killed all those people in that church in South Carolina, there’s a selfie he took of himself standing with a Confederate flag behind him. But that photo was edited by the media. Over one shoulder is the Confederate flag, while over the other should is the United States flag.
The media wanted to suggest the killer was motivated by racism, and he may have been. But most of these killers who slaughter all these people (and are not motivated by ISIS) do it because while they are inflicting pain and terror and death upon others, they are numb to the crushing loneliness and emptiness of their barren lives.
The camera cannot tell you why anyone does anything, But with words, you can press for that why and let the world know of that motivation.
There a six basic questions in journalism, all of which should be answered in any news article or interview: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. With photography you can answer all of those questions but the Why.
With words, you answer the Why.
And those basic questions, and especially the Why question, are the questions you should answer when creating characters in fiction. Actors what to know, “What’s my character’s motivation?” Really, though, they’re asking, “Why does my character do this? Why does he want to do this? Why does he feel this way?”
What does this all have to do with being a glutton for punishment? It all comes back to motivation. Why am I writing about this?
The answer is that as writers or performers or whatever, we’re throwing ourselves out there for the world to judge us. There are as many people who are disappointed with our work or hate us, as there are that love us and love our work.
Or, even though you may write well, society can just ignore you, not even notice you. It’s heart wrenching. It doesn’t get any easier. But I write because I want to, not because I have to. I put myself in harms way, so to speak, willingly.
Why? Because I love words and I love writing.