With the release of my second novel, Light of the Northern Dancers, I am increasingly asked by those finding the vocation self-indulgent, “Why DOES anyone write?” Those putting their fingers to a keyboard 5-10 hours a day understand. Those who don’t, perhaps never will unless they recognize the role stories play in humanity’s survival. Ultimately, writing is an exercise in love and creating.
For me, the will to achieve is inarguably no small part. My life has been an exercise in pushing boulders up gravel roads at ten thousand feet. The air is thin, the load monstrous, and gravity mean-spirited. I don’t write genre fiction, because I haven’t lived my life according to a genre, unless it’s a cookbook: soup-of- the-day. This drove my agent crazy. Publishers and bookstores alike prefer to pigeonhole an author. Certain authors attract certain readers. Marketing is easier. But I’m one of those people who, rather than dine alone and order a single dessert, invites five friends just so I can sample six different sweets at the end of the meal.
I may not write within a specific category, but a certain theme seems to drive my life. Until recently, I never realized that each career I’ve chosen demands subjective judgement of the product I produce and takes approximately seven years to achieve success.
A television newsroom, where the pecking order swings from intern to assignment desk to on-camera in about seven years.
Farming, where the break-even point for investment over yield is seven years.
The horse business, where the third generation of a breeding program, close to seven years after the primary generation is born, usually produces the first champion.
In the wine business, grapes are planted and a tasting room opened and word of mouth spreads like the vines growing in the vineyard. The first clean profit comes the seventh year.
And writing: that broad, self-indulgent, learning curve where the first lesson is self-flagellation, and the one true thing the writer experiences is the Art of Rejection. Self-publishing not-withstanding, the average time it takes to have a first novel published? You guessed it: seven years.
Now, doing the math, and assuming I didn’t start in television wearing diapers, you conclude correctly that I started writing at the age of 48. I had written a series of non-fiction articles for a small local magazine. Recently divorced, and with two small daughters, the idea of writing for a living appealed. I could remain an available mommy any time of day. Little did I know that the truth of ‘writing for a living’ meant less that I could support myself and more that writing became an addiction. For the author, it is this need to write that drives us to sit in a chair, deep in a state of creation that can only be described as “The Zone.” Oddly, it has little to do with achievement.
When the Zone happens, it’s similar to being in love, or like slow drip morphine; that half-daze where a handful of characters sit down at the table of your mind. You hear them speak, you feel them think. Where actors display the talents of writers, writers display the talents of their characters. Great writers are schizophrenic when their fingers hit the keyboard. Only in that interior disjointed world can the author begin to show, not tell. And the truth is, visual stories are more easily accessible because “seeing,” even if only in the mind’s eye, brings a message home. This is why eliciting emotion and showing instead of telling in an author’s work is so very important.
If uncertainty drives the writer’s mind, the love of creation bathes the writer’s heart. As Chekov once said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” You actually FEEL this difference, don’t you? Feeling is the key to memory, and memory helps keep us alive.
George Orwell said that we write for sheer egotism, or getting back at people. But I believe there are other big reasons authors exist. We write to see the world from different angles. We write to wear different shoes. And stringing words on a page slows us down to the moment a 4 o’clock flower unfolds at dusk, the wind rustling through leaves on an autumn tree, or noting a shadow’s crawl across the landscape. Writing forces us to watch and listen and learn.
As writers, we are no less creative than God. In fact, we are the gods of our stories, complete with free will and consequences. As humans, we feel a constant push to create whether it’s designing a home or re-arranging kitchen drawers. The most natural thing to do with a writing tool then is to make one’s mark. In stone, over canvas, on the page. Storytelling has ever been integral to the success of mankind. The telling and re-telling of universal stories have helped keep us all alive. Did you hear the one about the man who ventured into the forest after dark? And, as author, Joe Bunting, once said, “We write not just to change the world, but to create a new world.” Perhaps, a better world?
So, like birthing a child, we are rooted in our story creation and, if we’ve done our job as authors, the leaves sprouted from our tales hit upon common, deeply held themes that imbed our work in the reader’s psyche. We have achieved importance. Our creation lives on. And so do we.
Find out more about Robin on her website: https://robinfgainey.com/
Follow her on Twitter @CaesarsDog
Fiery aristocrat, Eden Rose, uprooted from her native Scotland, has tended a foundering marriage and failing ranch at the corner of Crazy Woman Creek and the Powder River for a decade. Best friend, backwoods spitfire Maddie True, has her own woes a few miles away: widowed with a passel of young children, and caretaker to her addled father. Abandoned by her husband during the height of Wyoming Territory’s worst drought in history, Eden depends on her inept brother, Aiden, to see her through the coming winter. But when he disappears into the wild Bighorn mountains, she shuns Maddie’s fearful cautions, teaming with enigmatic Lakota holy man, Intah, to find her brother before the wicked snow holds them all hostage.
“Light of the Northern Dancers is a powerful novel of a woman’s journey, thought-provoking and unsettling in its authenticity and unflinching honesty.” — Susan Wiggs, NYT Bestselling Romance Author
“Half of what happens to us may have reason, the rest is chaos. Robin F. Gainey’s second novel, Light of the Northern Dancers, has this brand of existentialism. It’ real and it doesn’t let go!” — Tom Skerritt, Award Winning Actor, Writer, Director