Raise Your Hand If You're Hiding from Life

Why do we write? The pay is lousy, the hours before a computer are long, and forget about fame in the current state of publishing where some dumb celebrity or crooked politician will sell anything his ghost writer puts on paper before a real writer gets anywhere. I have a theory that writers find more satisfaction in the world of their own creation than there is in the real one.

Most of us participate in reality. We have jobs, families, and social obligations. But in that other world we pull the strings, we make it work, we decide who lives or dies, succeeds or fails. Pretty powerful stuff.

As an educator I saw many examples of young writers whose existence stunk: kids who scribbled page after page of romance, sci-fi, or horror as they escaped dreadful parents, crazy situations, or crashing boredom. I think many adult writers are escaping something, and I must admit that writing does it for me. Are things happening that I don't want to happen? I can sit down at the keyboard and make up a world where things work out every time.

Even writers of noir, where things probably won't work out, like the escape writing provides. Instead of changing the world into something pretty, they try to capture the senselessness of it all, the frustrations of existence. Thomas Hardy, perhaps the greatest noir-guy of all time, speaks his unhappiness with the world so well that we marvel at his talent even as we weep at the sadness of it all. Noir is still escape, it's just a different kind.

Everyone finds a way to forget life's bad stuff for a while. I have friends with hobbies that consume them, and those hobbies distract them from their cares. Some people bury themselves in work in order to escape an unhappy marriage or some other tragedy. For most writers, pounding away at a keyboard is both hobby and work. We hope that it will pay off, and for some of us, it does. We hope people will like what we've written, and sometimes they do. But most of all we like living in that unreal world for a while, the one where everyone does as we want them to. And if readers want to hide from life for a while in your little world, so much the better.

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