People write for as many different reasons as there are people who CAN write, and probably more because some people want to write but assume they can’t. Here is a brainstorm list:
1. An expansion of correspondence — maybe copies to friends and relatives like a group letter or maybe even a book like the dialogue published as “84 Charing Cross Road” or — to be radical, the letters of Paul to nascent congregations that became the bulk of the New Testament.
2. A record of descent like the roll of begats in the Old Testament.
3. A record of laws in print, beginning with the Ten Commandments printed on stone.
4. A written version of oral stories usually sung by troubadors long ago or maybe happening a whole lot more recently.
5. Beautiful poetic metaphorical writing to be used for meditation or in a prayer book. These days they are often “environmental”.
6. A way of seeing what you think, ordering ideas.
7. Political persuasion, polemics offering evidence.
8. A tool of education, flushing out information that can be and should be shared.
And so on. Lots more angles and new ones always.
At some point along comes the “novel” which is “immersive,” romantic, sexy, generational, anchored by a place and time, and dynamic — things happen. Novels sweep the board, dominate everything, become synonymous with books. Then those split out into genres: mysteries, Westerns, sci-fi, and so on. And these, made into versions of a “codex” with printed paper between covers, become objects that can make money, reform cultures, defend the stigmatized, become elegant enough to be art objects.
THEN, overnight, it all goes virtual, online, not necessarily the same manuscript through time. Alternative endings, fan fiction, prequels, sub-expansions of minor characters, and whatever else people can invent.
Just now on the telephone I was wrestling with my bank which, adding insult to injury, has been charging me $2 a month for sending me a paper accounting and now want to know whether they should hire a collection agency after a one dollar deficit showed up. They are trying to force me to go online but I keep telling them that in Valier one can’t count on internet, electricity or telephone and anyway EVERYTHING that goes online is public — I don’t care how many passwords a person has.
I tried to tell her about yesterday’s bank scandal — $30 fee to cash a Canadian check for $29.97. “I’m a writer,” I said, recklessly.
“What do you write?” she asked.
“Books,” I said, suspecting she wouldn’t know a blog if she sat on one.
“Romance, mysteries or adventure?” she asked. Those were the only categories she knew. Nothing about neurology, deep time, or theory of existence.
She thought for a moment. “Do you live in Vermont?” she asked, evidently thinking that’s where all writers live.
“No — Montana.” She thought for another moment.
“Why don’t you just drive over to Canada and cash the check?” It’s a three hour drive to the University of Calgary Press and I don’t have a passport. You have to have a passport to go to Canada these days. She didn’t know. Anything.
I did the monthly laundry yesterday where my fav laundry attendant, a WWII veteran and lifelong railroad man, struggles to understand me. He can’t figure out how I can have two master’s degrees, have taught school, read a lot, and was married to a famous man — but not have a fame and fortune. His indicators won’t compute. He’s not alone.
The people I’m reading are in Aeon, sometimes Edge, not TED; often through specialty groups and mailing lists. Mostly in Canada, which was an accident and often from aboriginal groups because of following Paul Seseequasis on Twitter. I follow HIV-AIDS issues. Outside of that, I read high-powered books and google their bibs. That often links me into other groups but it’s unusual for those people to be in Montana.
The bottom line is that I write because I’m a print freak and an idea hound and that’s the way I roll.
One of the major book symbioses that I see is between women and novels, and looking at the attendees at book readings here, it dawns on me what’s going on. They are looking for evidence about managing families and their own lives. They prefer regional, pioneer and early day stories, but not so much tribal people unless they’re enrolled. The Hutterite women, who also love novels, always include the dynamic of religion. Everyone is solving troubled kids’ problems, finding the perfect man or redeeming an existing marriage, and always cherishing the fantasy of writing books themselves.
This state has some very strong and informed women who take on environmental and political issues, but I don’t get the impression that they read novels or watch TV. They are addressing real issues and a lot of the time they are cutting trail, but networking. I admire them, but don’t travel with them. But THEY travel a lot, which means they listen to audible books while they’re on the road driving the long Montana distances, or if they’re flying to Washington DC or conferences in foreign countries, they take whatever version of Kindle they use, fully loaded with books — maybe not novels.
Kathy, the Valier librarian, goes through her quiet hours (when we’re all snowbound or traveling to a tournament) with a little gleaming tablet that tells stories. She’s on the main desktop computer to do her work — ordering, database maintenance, filing — or just at the counter laminating covers or stacking books into categories. If there are patrons reading, she uses earphones. She calls it her “little buddy” and clearly that’s what it is. She knows that books are not just what’s on the shelf but also all the peripherals.
Tablet books work here because this has been a radio culture for a hundred years and was an oral culture before that — both whites and tribal people. But also, they penetrate much farther into local lives than bound books ever would, going along on the tractor or through laundry and kitchen chores. For people who download rather than buying and shelving books, the saving in space is major. For people who move among households all the time, including kids, it’s a reassuring source of continuity.
All this is great but there is one big DISCONNECT: the creation of the materials. Kids can even make Hollywood-grade films using the computer and they do that. But who is writing radio scripts? Who is writing to read into a microphone? Who is a writer sensitive to sounds and dialogue rhythms, aware of the “beats” of action? In my grade school, in fourth grade, there were two teachers who specialized. My teacher’s focus was hand-puppets; the other teacher’s focus was radio. Anyone doing either now?
We just haven’t gone “wide” enough yet, which means we still don’t know all the reasons to write, which doesn’t have to be in print.