Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Do You Write?

Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire, had the most amazing quote on her blog today from writer Arne Garborg. Truer words were never spoken:

"For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money."

-Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)

The last three sentences are what really got me. They capture with perfect eloquence the reason why so many of our beloved celebrities have such bizarre, destructive lives. Brittany Spears, Michael Vick, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson... Heck, I could go on for days. They all have the shell of a wonderful life. They appear to have everything: fame, power and beauty, most of which is gained by having a certain amount of money. But they don't have the kernel. So the best things in life still elude them.

Now let's add a new dimension to this idea. In an ideal world, what would writing give you? Bestseller status? A phone call from Oprah? Multiple homes in NYC, L.A. and Miami with great ocean views? It's perfectly okay to want all of these things (I know I certainly do), just as long as you don't expect them. Editorial Ass, a.k.a. "Moonrat," says it far better than I...be aware, fellow writer, that the odds are very much against us.

Alright, before the more melodramatic among you reach for your drink of choice, remember that there is hope. One need only browse through your local Barnes & Noble or Borders to see that indeed, books still being bought and sold. Millions, probably billions, all over the world. Shocking, I know, but true. And out of all of those millions upon millions of books, a handful will become bestsellers and earn their authors a call from Oprah. A handful.

But you know that already. That's not the point. That's not why you get up before the sun or stay up long after it goes down, is it? Didn't think so. If you're like me, you do this thing we call writing because you love it, because deep down inside, you feel compelled to tell stories. You do it because there is something beautiful inside of you that needs to get out, and that something comes out whenever you put words on paper. You do it because it's what you were born to do.

So the money doesn't matter, or at least it shouldn't. If it comes to you, it's a wonderful bonus and you'll celebrate like you've lost your mind. But if it doesn't... Well, you'll survive, won't you? Because all of that extra stuff, it's just the shell anyway. It's not the kernel. The kernel is what you're doing right now. Writing. That is what "cannot be had for money."


  1. What a great post! I don't want any of the shell, but a cob full of juicy kernels would be great -- a few readers who are touched by something I wrote, the feeling of a job well done, leaving a little something behind, you know...the good stuff. Write on!

  2. Thanks, Angie! It's easy for us to get caught up in the goal of "getting published," so every now and then it's nice to have a reminder of why we do what we do. I wish you all the blessings (and juicy kernels) the writing life has to offer!