I find myself often wondering if writing fiction is an endeavor that has any meaning. Is it not just a massive ego trip? I have created something so amazing that hundreds of people will pay money to read it because it’s just that brilliant! Who the hell do I think I am? Who do any of us writers think we are?
And yet, another part of me doesn’t view it as an ego trip. As a reader, I starve after good fiction, and rarely do I view these authors as egotistical maniacs . Good fiction is not just a window into someone’s massive ego. Good fiction, rather, tells the truth. Sure, on the surface, the story features made-up characters, fictional landscapes, and scenarios/events that did not actually happen. And yet these stories tell the truth of what it means to be human, what it means to fail and triumph, what it means to navigate our way through this crazy-ass world we live in.
A few months ago I discovered Anne Lamott, and her most excellent book on writing, Bird by Bird. Lamott tells the truth, and I this book has rapidly become one of the two books that I gift most often to others (the second is Ender’s Game). I turned to it again the other day to re-read the last paragraph, which hits me right in the gut every time I read it.
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. ~Anne Lamott
Once everything else is stripped away, this is why we write. Books that making us sing during the storm are the books I want to read, and the books I strive to write.