Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why Do I Write Books? Why Does Anyone, For That Matter?

The most difficult question I ever got at an author appearance came during a festive celebration marking the re-opening of a children's library. It came from a tiny, towheaded girl (maybe three?), still wearing diapers, who peered at me over the microphone and asked me why I wrote books.

I was stumped. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me that question, and I honestly had never really thought about it much. I was speechless (which doesn't happen much!). Why in the world do I write books anyway? Good question! This was much more difficult than the typical questions I get, like "Where do you get your ideas from?" and "Do you always talk this fast?" and "How tall is your wife?"

Why would it be so hard to explain why I write books? I guess it's a difficult question because there's no simple explanation—at least not one that I've come up with after some serious noodling on the subject.

I think most people imagine it would be neat to be a writer, to see your name in print, to have your stories read by thousands. But most people never get around to writing anything. Why not? What do writers possess that everyone else doesn't? To be frank, I don't know why anyone would want to put themselves through the process—certainly not for the fortune, the fame or the influence. (Truth is, I spend what little influence I have trying to convince kids that it can actually be fun to read and that they should do it on a regular basis.)

So why do I write books? Or why does anyone for that matter? Where, in fact, do writers come from? What things in their childhood cause them to become spinners of tales? Were there traits I exhibited as a child that a keen and perspicacious observer would have pointed to and said, "Ah, now little David here is bound to become future writer."

Last night, I stumbled upon an fantastic essay by Julianna Baggott on this very subject. She writes a successful children's book series under the perfectly goofy nom de plume N.E. Bode. (My daughter's fourth grade class is reading one of her books, which put her on my "author radar.") She is also a poet and a writer of books for tall people, too. Her essay appeared in a HarperCollins newsletter. It's fantastic, and hilarious, and eerily insightful. It's really worth a read, so please do so here.

This article is the closest I've gotten to figuring out an answer to that toddler's curve ball. And it may help you identify a future writer who's lurking in your midst—and those traits that drive you bananas just might just be the makings of a future writer of fortune, fame and influence!

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