Writing For Yourself

                                                by Laura Crum

 

            I finished the writing project I’ve been working on. I’m really happy with it. I’m also pretty sure that no one else is likely to be interested in it. And that’s OK with me.

            I actually finished two writing projects. The first is a short (fifty pages) memoir about my life with horses, intended to be a companion piece to the twelve mystery novels I’ve written involving horses. The memoir tells of the real experiences I’ve had that are the underpinning of the novels, and introduces the real horses that became characters in my books. I’m pretty sure that only truly die-hard fans of my mystery series are going to have any interest in this memoir, but I intend to put it up as a 99 cent special on Kindle. So far, so good.

            The second project was more ambitious. I wanted to write about the magical experiences I’ve had—things that seem outside the realm of what most people believe is really possible. This sort of thing is hard to write about, at least for a writer with my degree of talent (which is minor at best). In order to make sense of it all, I had to try to explain my life. And then, in this context, describe the things that have happened to me, and make the story sound believable. Because the truth, in this case, sounded a bit like wishful fiction. It was somewhat daunting. But I began the project several months ago, with the following words.

 

“This is a story about magic and God and very old spirits and death and trust. At some level, I am almost certainly going to fail at telling it, simply because I am not that good a writer. As the author of twelve horse-themed mysteries, I’m a reasonable craftsman when it comes to creating entertaining, mildly insightful stories. A great writer worthy of attacking major literary themes, I am simply not.

            But I have to tell this story anyway. Because it is both a true story and my own story, and if I don’t tell it, no one will. Or rather, this story is told all the time, but every version is different. This one unique experience of the magic that surrounds us, the magic that we all know is present, the magic we want to believe in, but mostly can’t…well, it won’t be told unless I tell it.”

 

 

            Last month I finished this piece, which turned out to be a thirty page essay. I am quite happy with it. And I don’t honestly think that anyone besides my best friends and my husband and son will ever have any interest in reading it. And again, that’s OK with me.

            I spent twenty years writing for other people. I began writing my mystery series because I loved the mysteries written by Dick Francis, and I believed I could do something similar, using my own background training cowhorses as he had used his background as a steeplechase jockey. I was ecstatic when I sold my first novel to a major NY publisher and I worked hard at writing fiction worth publishing for the next twenty years. During the course of my twelve novels I definitely moved away from trying to write the sort of stories I thought people wanted and towards writing my own particular truth. But I still adhered carefully to the form of the mystery novel, and tried to imbue each book with sufficient surprises and excitement to satisfy a mystery reader.

            It has been amazingly freeing to simply write what I want to write because it’s something I really want to say. To not worry about the form and let the message determine its own shape and length. To know that I don’t have to fit into anyone else’s definition of a genre, or worry about whether the work is “saleable.” Because I’m writing just to please myself.

            I’m very happy with this essay. It’s written in a “story-telling” style that I think conveys the point very well. Of course, it’s easy for me to think this, in the comfortable bubble of no one having read the piece but my husband and friends. It is certainly the most ambitious piece of writing that I ever attempted, that much I can say. I guess I can be proud that I finished it– and I think that I said what I meant to say. Whether it will ever be up for public viewing is another question entirely.

            Has anyone else written something simply because you wanted to write it, and then wondered if it was something that anyone else would ever want to read? 

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