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The International Writers Magazine
: Why do writers write?

Satisfaction Guaranteed?
Colin Todhunter

So why do writers write?
I suppose writers write for many reasons: to inform, to educate, to entertain, to make money, as therapy (to get things off their chest), to provoke and so on. However, most would agree on one thing – they write to be read. But this then raises the question, to be read by whom?

Some write with both eyes fixed firmly on the market and aim for the maximum readership and income. Indeed I heard about one famous author who has a computer package that runs through his finished text to see if he has satisfied various preset criteria, which his readers want. He writes with these considerations in mind and there is little deviation from the formula. Quantity of readers is what matters.
Others may opt for quality and write for a very select audience and may strive to be published in niche publications. Most writers however aim to achieve optimum exposure whether they write for the mass market or within a smaller, specific market.

I meet so many travellers in India who tell me they are writing books based on their travels. Contrary to their belief, most will never get published and few if any will make much money even if they do. Some already have the publishing deal and royalties worked out in their head. In their minds they are on the verge of being rich. They are already legends in their minds and believe their writing is saying something new and is brilliant. Well most who show me their stuff are merely churning out what has been said before and in a less than gripping manner.

But should it be all about market penetration, money and publishing deals? I know that in the past I have become pretty obsessed at times about how many people read me when my stuff gets published. Then I began to think whether I really care if complete strangers are reading my stuff, particularly when it can be quite personal: complete strangers who I will never meet, most of whom will never provide any feedback, and half of whom arguably wouldn’t give me the time of day they knew me.
I’m not in it for the money so readership numbers shouldn’t really matter, should they?

Recently I met a musician who plays to his friends and community in a bar in the US. He cut a CD for his family and friends. Somehow it began to receive airplay on a big radio station in Seattle. This was not really his intention. Who knows, with the right marketing it could have gone on to bigger things. He wasn’t interested in that. He just wanted the people who matter to him to listen to his stuff. His music was not meant as a commercial endeavour. He played for the sheer enjoyment and wanted to pass that on to a select few: those that matter to him. And that is how he gained his satisfaction.

He made me question my motives as a writer. I write to be read. It’s a great ego boost to know that a huge number may read some of my stuff, but once the ego takes over then part of the enjoyment and satisfaction goes. The publisher’s of Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian writer, let the book buyer know that his books have sold 43 million copies. So therefore he’s a “successful” and a “brilliant” writer, yes? He’s 43 times better than someone who has sold one million?
And I’m also a good or bad writer based on the quantity who read me?
Well, unfortunately that is the kind of mindset it can be easy to get dragged into when the ego begins to rare its ugly head. There can be a feeling of disappointment, failure or dissatisfaction because we are not reaching the parts that Coelho reaches, even though others may believe in the quality of our work although its commercial potential may be limited. My peers in the writing world read me. I value their judgement as they are writers also. My friends read me. My mother reads me! Wow that’s some quality audience. So I’m a great success aren’t I and I have acquired great personal satisfaction from it haven’t I? Perhaps. But I wonder how many will read this…

© Colin Todhunter April 2005

Colin is the author of Chasing Rainbows and other stories about India
More about travel writing here


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