Staring at the Sun

A writing board I am on is asking tough questions these days. Questions like ‘Why do you write?’ and ‘Will you stop writing if you don’t get published?’ (Usually the questions are more like ‘Does anybody want to meet for drinks on Friday?’ and ‘Who is hotter, James McAvoy or Daniel Craig?”) A few of the writers on the board have their work out on submission to agents and editors, so the questions have a renewed sense of urgency.

I write because I am an extremely internal person, and writing things down helps me to process them. It’s a way for me to work things out. I tend to have the self-awareness of a starfish, and oftentimes I don’t realize a problem is bothering me until it shows up on the page.  And then I’m all “Hey, I wrote about X today.  I wonder why that came up?” And my husband just shakes his head.

I write because I am a storyteller at heart, and I always have been. As a child, I told my sister sweeping sagas about a little girl who looked just like us but lived on the moon.  I tell those same stories to my children now. I kept journals for years, well before I’d earned a byline. And when I have been too busy or too tired to write or make up stories, I’ve retold classics like The Wizard of Oz, adding elaborate embellishments.

I would write and tell stories even if I was never published, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be.  But for me, writing a whole novel with the single goal of being published is off-putting.  It’s too big of a journey, with too large of a disappointment at the end if it doesn’t work out. I can only write the way I write, one page at a time, with the goal of a cohesive whole at the end.

Looking at publication directly is too blinding, like staring at the sun. I can only look at it with soft eyes, at the peripherals that surround it: Crafting a readable story with a viable plot and characters that hold my heart. If I do that, if my work is the best it can be, I’ve done everything I can do.  Anything else is beyond my control.

Why do you write?

Liz Michalski


  1. Maer Wilson on May 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great article, Liz. I’m also one who likes to tell stories. Mine were always on the side or part of my acting. They were just something I did. I started more serious writing about 10 years ago. However, it’s only been the last three years that I’ve been writing novels. Time will tell on how that goes.

    • liz on May 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Maer. And good luck with the writing!

  2. vaughnroycroft on May 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I told myself I was going to write an epic fantasy trilogy as a young age (12 or 13). This was the direct result of reading and being blown away by LOTR. My friends and family sort of stopped believing it about me. Maybe I did, too. I clearly remember sitting at the computer one morning shortly after we sold our business. An old childhood friend was staying at the house. He wandered into my office with his coffee and asked what I was doing. “Researching the Goths,” I told him. “What, are you back to your old – ‘I’m going to write an epic trilogy’ thing?” he asked, with a bit more than a hint of mockery in his voice. Only in that moment did the conviction solidify. “Maybe I am,” I said.

    I was 43 that day, so it took me 30 years to get started. Fun question,Liz. Love your staring at the sun analogy, as I do ‘soft eyes.’

    • liz on May 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      How about we say you started thirty years ago, but just started putting it down on paper? The book you might have written then wouldn’t be the same as the one you are writing now. Think of all the life experiences you’ve had during those 30 years and how they enrich your novel. It’s hard to be epic when you are 13. : )

  3. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on May 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    I love the soft eyes analogy. That’s exactly it for me, though I’ve often thought of a welder’s arc rather than the sun.

    I need to keep the muse protected from outside expectations or concerns about the marketplace, or I don’t write — fiction particularly, because it’s my heart’s deep desire. I actually just wrote and submitted a piece about my “non-writing” years. I journalled extensively and was always cultivating stories in my clinical notes. My colleagues probably thought I was nuts. 🙂 I usually know what’s going on for me, but I can’t see my way forward until I write it down. And fiction-writing simply makes me feel lighter, expansive. Even when it goes poorly, I’m happier for the attempt.

    • liz on May 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      That’s how I feel too Jan. It may be frustrating not to have the words come out exactly the way I want them, but I always feel better for trying. Good luck with the piece on your ‘non-writing’ years — I look forward to reading it.

  4. Normandie on May 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Soft eyes. Yes… I think that if we squint and stare at a fixed goal rather than smiling at the process, we’ll probably shrink and lose some joy in the story telling.

    • liz on May 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Thank you for stopping by, Normandie. And I think you are exactly right — much of the enjoyment of the story is the process.

  5. Bryn Greenwood on May 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Stories are a valuable part of our existence. Long before we had the printed word and query letters and advances to worry about, we passed on important ideas through stories. We’ll do that no matter what, and in some ways, it’s easier to tell the story, if you don’t look head on at publishing while you tell it.

    • liz on May 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      And hopefully the stories will still be told no matter what electronic devices the future brings. I just finished reading How the Irish Saved Civilization, and it’s fascinating to see how literature was saved.

  6. Rick Wilcox on May 3, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Writing turned out to be an instructive priest. I thought it would be cathartic to write for a vast unseen readership – but for me it wasn’t. I felt naked in the arena after dredging my heart for the amusement (or worse, apathy) of whoever happened by.  I still write, but letters and correspondence with reciprocal loved ones. When my heart now spills out words, they land in the arms of loved ones.

    • liz on May 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      That’s lovely, Rick. And I can’t imagine anyone being apathetic about your words.

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