Yes I know; the phrase we writers so often ponder isn’t quite the one of this blog post’s title. The preposition we expect is ‘for’, not ‘of’, but that’s the whole point of this post. Yet again on second thought, ‘for whom do we write?’ is also appropriate to the question at hand.
The answer, ‘we write for ourselves’ is one authors have proudly proclaimed for a long time, released when they finally understand there should be no other goal than their own satisfaction behind the compulsion to spend so many long hours alone, working harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives at something nobody in the world may ever see. And yet that’s not truly what the title of this post addresses, because it was only very recently, when my busy schedule squeezed my writing time to reduce my work to a pathetic trickle, that I finally realized the characters of my unfinished novel had been waiting quietly, patiently, respectfully, for me to come back to them when I could. They hadn’t drifted away, miffed by my inattention as many old friends would be, or shut themselves down completely so I couldn’t see into their souls anymore. I wouldn’t blame them if they had, but each time I steal a few hours to reach out for them, I find them willing and able to come close again. I haven’t lost them at all, thanks to the unusual structure of the creative process.
So there I am at last, sitting ‘alone’ at my desk with the grown-up versions of the characters who populated my first historical novel as children, and their narratives pick up right where they left off sometimes months earlier, forcing me to acknowledge a very surprising truth: It isn’t the narratives themselves that propel these characters but the other way around. The characters come alive in my head first and are always more important than their stories. That’s why I can’t lose the thread that holds them to me and to each other. I’m writing because I owe it to these fictitious people to bring them to life, not because a story needs to be told, so the characters are invented in order to write it. Does this seem like semantics? Not so; or if so, then only in that the logic of the patient existence of those specters waiting for me to bring them forward informs all the writing I do. I owe those people in my head a voice and heart to go with their images. Then they’ll tell their stories in their own words and I’ll learn them in the same way the reader does; by getting to know the characters better.