26 March 2022

In which our Heroine asks the Question: Why Bother?

I read in the paper today that divorces and job resignations were way up in 2021, the conclusion being that Covid is causing us to revisit all the important things in our life.  So it was almost serendipitous that this week I was put to the challenge to defend (or at least, assess) my continued feverish predilection for writing fiction.

Someone (a real person, not my wayward alter ego) asked me the other day, why do I write.  Or more specifically, why do I continue to write.

Now, this was not meant to be a slight in any way.  The person who asked was another writer facing the same sort of future I see for myself.  That is, he is also:

  • A mid-list author with a respected traditional house, putting out a book every 12 to 18 months.
  • An author with 15-plus books and dozens of short stories published in respected magazines.
  • A thirty-year history of writing.
  • Some awards on the mantel.

And - wait for it -

  • Slim to no chance of getting rich or achieving best-seller status on the New York Times or Globe and Mail bestseller lists at this point in the career.

So… writer friend asked, "Why do we still do it?  What can we possibly achieve now that we haven't already?  Because that Top 20 list is probably never going to be within our reach."

(Wait a minute.  Was I supposed to be on some list?  Another thing I failed to do?  I felt like I was one of the wise men - the 4th one you never hear about, Irving the Unwise - going to see Baby Jesus in the manger.  "I didn't know we were supposed to bring gifts.  Nobody told me we were supposed to bring gifts!")

But I digress.  My friend wasn't through.  "How many books do I need to have published to feel like I'm kind of a success?  When will I have enough?"

Poo.  I had no answer.

This fall, I signed a contract for my seventeenth book.  It comes out next fall (if Covid doesn't kill the presses for lack of paper worldwide, sigh.)  And then the question will be, is that enough?  Will an eighteenth book make any difference at all to me or to the world?

So I asked myself, "Self - why are you doing this?  At a time when so many people are retiring to the golf course, why are you still torturing yourself with plot lines and deadlines and tedious social media promotion?  Why are you putting up with endless Amazon reviews and online trolls who couldn't find a plot hole if they were pushed into it?  (Note to alter ego:  always carry a shovel.)

Then a strange thing happened this morning.  A reader in the States sent me a notice she received from the West Virginia Library System, that the audiobook version of my title Worst Date Ever, was available for lending.

Well, that's cool, I thought.  Maybe it won't seem like a lot to you, but I live in suburban Toronto - that's in Canada, the other big country on the top end of North America.  The one that invented hockey fights and slurps maple syrup.

I can't begin to tell you what this email did for me.  We've all had a hard year.  But the thought that my renegade book (a loopy romantic comedy - I usually write crime) could perhaps put a smile on the face of a reader an entire country and several states away did something to my heart.

Like the Grinch, I think my heart grew several sizes.

God Bless that reader.  Because the answer to my friend's question became clear to me.  I write so that I might put a smile on someone's face - someone who might need it.  Someone who has seen hard times, is longing for escape, and needs a little lift that doesn't cost anything more than a library card.

That's why I write. That's why I continue to write. How about you?

May 2022 bring you smiles.

Here's that little book in the West Virginia Library.  Who says I can't write romance?  (Okay, so they asked me to write a romance, and I wrote about a series of bad dates.  Give me a break.  It has a happy ending, doesn't it?)

Available at all the usual suspects…


  1. I'd thought of sling down, stopping. What's the use when you're a barely-selling writer, even said it aloud and my wife reminded me. You write because you have to.

    1. O'Neil, who was the author who said, "A writer who can't write is a monster." I think of that often! Maybe I would become unlivable. With you there.

  2. Great post, Melodie. I've thought of stopping several times, but then I find myself back at the keyboard. The world has gone crazy, but when I'm writing I can pretend I have some control.

    Last week, I was at my health club, and an older couple came up to me and said they'd found one of my novels in the local library and had checked it out. When we finished talking, I felt five years younger. Hey, it doesn't take much...

    1. Oh, I love your statement, "pretend I have some control" - Steve, I should have thought of that. It is so true, in my case. And that's wonderful about the novel in the library. The best feeling...

  3. Melodie, we are all in that same boat. I'll never be a #1 best selling novelist. But that's okay - for one thing, I don't have the attention span to write novels. We write because we have to. And so - back to the keyboard!

  4. I am wondering if I have the attention span to write novels, Eve - that's after seventeen! Then I remind myself, I can always go back to exclusively short stories, my first love. Yes, back to the keyboard.

  5. My niece got a library card at age four or five. She didn't know how to read yet, but she was so proud she carried that library card from room to room.

    I write because it's really the only art form I've got. I haven't stopped writing entirely, but I'm so slow it would be very difficult to tell if I was still doing it. Who was it who said, "Any writer who can stop writing probably should do so"?

    1. smile- likely Dorothy Parker, Elizabeth. And I say the same thing to my students. "Stop while you're still happy. And if you can't stop, you're one of us."

  6. Let’s go back to the middle of your excellent article where your friend asks, “How many books do I need to have published to feel like I’m kind of a success?”
    To me, and probably a multitude of others, success is relative to where you are in the writing world at any given moment. To the newbie writer who is still struggling to get published, the author who has a single story in a top mystery magazine such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is probably a success. And, that author with one story sees the author with several in top publications as a success. And, the same with novelists going up the line to the top of the pyramid where so few have a place at the table.
    I am always surprised when someone is slightly awed at me having a mere 160 published short stories, with 49 sold to AHMM, along with several other stories in various anthologies. Yet, my candle is pretty small when compared to Michael Bracken, John Floyd and the late Ed Hoch. Plus, my novel sets in the computer desk drawer where it rightly belongs, gathering dust.
    Success is an evolving entity. Everyone defines it slightly different. Competition and desire drive it upward. Someone, or more, out there sees you as a success. Just don’t sit back on your laurels unless you’re ready to retire. Always remember that to agents and/or editors, you may only be as good as your last publication. So now, everybody get out there and kick butt. Write.

    1. RT, you said it so well. Success is a moving target. Thanks for those comments!

  7. I've come to the conclusion that I am a selfish writer. I write fiction because I must, when I must, what I must. I can write on demand, but it's more enjoyable if I'm writing nonfiction. It's also more enjoyable if it doesn't lead to social media promotion.

    1. Oh, I'm laughing! Yes, the thought of writing something that I must later promote on social media makes me shiver. Thanks for that, Ali!

  8. >Someone (a real person, not my wayward alter ego)

    Love it.

    >Irving the Unwise

    (still laughing) He’s the one who stubbed his toe on the manger and (unwisely) said, “Jesus!” whereupon Mary looked at Joseph and Joseph looked at Mary, and they said, “That’s it!”

    ⚡⚡ Ow. Ow. Okay, stop! ⚡⚡

    >Toronto - that's in Canada, the other big country on the top end of North America

    Smart arse. Quebec is starting to look a lot friendlier.

    > I think my heart grew several sizes.

    Damn pepper in the air! (sniff) Wonderfully put, Melodie. Nicely done. We certainly don’t do it for the money.

    1. Leigh, you are that one in a million who always makes me smile and feel good about my writing! God bless you for it.

  9. I love that you write because you want to make other people feel good, Mel. Entertainment is key. I write to be read, to make other people feel--be it happy or sad. But I know we also have to enjoy the writing journey because there's no guarantee any particular thing we write will be read by others. But it's always wonderful when it is.

    1. Yes, Barb - that is the real reward - when we've touched a reader. Even just one can make all the difference. Thanks for this comment! *You've* just made that difference to me.


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