Spencer Richard

Why I Write (And Other Reasons to Live)

Why I Write

This is a loaded article. ‘Why I write’ is the sort of thing that could set me off into a diatribe of such self-focused, self-congratulatory, ego-maniacal deliberation that I wake up two days later in a daze like I was drunk on wine. ‘Why I write’ is dependent on how I understand my self as an individual. Anybody who knows me knows that I write things, after all. I write songs and I write stories and I write more songs and I write articles like this one and I write novels. I haven’t finished any novels but I keep working on them. I got a sidebar on my website that tells you my progress. Isn’t that clever? Hugh Howey used to do something like that on his website.

I have to be careful when I talk about myself for two reasons. The first reason is that I very much love the work I do and it would bore everyone but myself to talk about how awesome the stories I’ve made are, or how catchy I think the songs I’ve written. This part shouldn’t come off as too narcissistic, I hope. If I didn’t love my work then why should anyone else? The second reason is that I can be my own worst enemy and I firmly believe that the more intently I examine myself the less I like. It takes considerable willpower to consistently frame my life in a positive light.

But anyway, here goes, in no particular order:

1) I write because I love to read.

I never read as much as I should, mind you, but whenever I read it sends my imagination to places far beyond what pithy things I could have envisioned on my own accord. I read and reread great works of essays by Theodore Dalrymple and articles on the Art of Manliness from Brett Mckay and his wife, Kate, because they make me think in new and saner ways. I read non-fiction by the boatload, fiction by the buoy. When I read fiction, I am far more persnickety than I would like to admit. There are dozens of books that I have started and never finished, but when I do finish a book, it’s usually something pretty great. I finished Neil Gaiman’s Coraline last night and loved it, truly it was a gem. Timothy Findley’s The Wars was amazing as well. I’ve read Robert Heinlein and Stieg Larsson, Alice Sebold and Michael Crichton. I’ve read Ray Bradbury, Cormac McCarthy, Douglass Adams, Orson Scott Card, and many others. Though I read little fiction compared to many people, without these important examples of great authors I have read, I would have no hope of writing well, nor would I have any inspiration. No man is an island.

2) I write because it’s challenging.

Before you get the idea that I’m one of those gluttons for punishment whose sole thrill in life is the victory of achievement, I’d like to correct you by admitting that that… is only partly true. It turns out that I’m one of those multi-genre, multi-form writers because it very much appeals to my disposition to try and sympathize with as many different kinds of people and situations as possible. It is hard to write something worth reading, whose characters often are so very different from myself, but it is also immensely satisfying when I think I do a good job of it. Writing my science-fiction novel, as I have been doing for many, many months now, is hands-down the hardest creative endeavour I have ever attempted. But when I completed Part 1 (of 3) and had it sitting there, crisply printed beside me in a binder—the feeling of accomplishment was too immense to contain with words. I flip through it and catch myself reading sections and actually enjoying it. The challenge is awesome and the reward of completion—even more so!

3) I write because it makes sense out of life.

How often do you ever stop to think about the power of narration? As a writer, it’s on my mind quite a bit. I think about the intense power of personal narration, how the authorial command we have over our own lives dictates so much of our own sense of happiness and wonder. The way I see myself: I am a young man, husband, and father, who is managing a bookstore and honing his craft in his off time. I am adventuring into the future of an unknown career path, brushing shoulders with the ideas and characters that will inspire a body of work to hopefully last a generation. I am writing stories because someday my children will read them and remember the passion with which I wrote them. I am writing to inspire my children to take action when it comes to their passions instead of simply sitting there all day and watching Netflix. I write to right wrongs of the future. I am a time-traveller.

It’s important that I see myself as a positive protagonist in my own life. I recommend you do the same and not just because I said so, but because you are the lead in your own story. Be a good lead, then. Be a good protagonist.

See, a good protagonist makes decisions. A good protagonist learns from his mistakes and tries to better his situation with action, in addition to words. A good protagonist does not blame others for his position in life, he takes what was dealt him and multiplies it through sheer effort and the support of people he chooses to spend time with. Of course, I personally believe in a higher power and do not attribute my lot in life as a mere expression of my own selfish desires, but I believe the course to fulfilling what is planned for me will only be made through free will.

The point is that at minimum, I am a co-author of my own existence. This is a mindset as well as a set of actions. Now, I could look at my life in a totally different light. I could write an entirely different thought where I am the enemy in my own story, accountable to everyone but myself, flowing in whatever direction the wind blows because I lack the strength to stand against it. But I won’t write that story. That story is crap! That story has an unlikable protagonist. I’d put that book down before I even got to page 50. And if I wouldn’t read a book like that, you can sure as hell bet I’m going to do my best not to live a book like that.

Would you?

About the Author View all posts Author website

Spencer Richard

was once a small town columnist for THE HINTON PARKLANDER (2008-2009). Before then he performed to an unsuspecting audience of over 8,000 people during the ALBERTA WINTER GAMES in 2006. Later he had one of his own songs, ON THE WAY, produced by Black Road Records (2013) and showcased it in with an original music video. He is currently working on a couple of novels and a rap album. During the day he manages a book store in Edmonton, Alberta.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I always thought of myself as the villain in my own story, but nevertheless a proactive one… that is, pursuing the betterment of my own circumstances at the expense of everyone else, haHAAA!! I guess that is one thing that antagonists and protagonists have in common: the pursuit of their own desires.. I mean, how many protagonists were actually antagonists from the villain’s point of view? I often think of Star Wars. I mean, the Emperor really just wanted to have peace in the galaxy. His strategy to attain that goal was by means of control and conformity I suppose, but nevertheless a noble goal. But then those blasted war mongering rebels had to mess it all up!

    • Very good point. I enjoy the Star Wars analogy. Perhaps the best thing to strive for is the wilful pursuit of one’s desires, provided the annihilation of Alderaan isn’t a side effect.

  • “I am the co-author of my own existence.” – Spencer Richard. This is going on my quote wall. I could begin to dissect this quote and how much it means to me, but that would take a while and probably would be useless because you are the author after all! But thank you.

    • Talk about a compliment! As far as I know I have never been on somebody’s quote wall.

      And feel free to dissect away, I’m sure your perspective would add to the discussion wonderfully. As for me, the idea behind that quote is incredibly central to how I live my life. I have been given this life, whether I am to thank God, Darwinian evolution, or simply my parents for it—the fact that I am here is not my fault. I should be thankful for the opportunity. What I do with my life now that I am here, that’s the part where I come in.

      There is a very old expression of wisdom whose source I cannot remember in this moment, but it says, “Call no man happy until after he is dead.” To say a man is ultimately happy is sort of like reading a book, but judging it before you get to the ending. Our lives are like great big novels with many conflicts, but where we end up tells us the meaning of those conflicts. Every single struggle we have ever encountered will gain meaning by how our lives come together in the end. Could there be a better invitation to write a good story?

      • There could be no better invitation. Stories keep us alive, keep us crying, longing, laughing and smiling.

        I’ve been struggling recently with the notion of happiness and trying to be happy all the time. I often feel guilty for not being happy with the life I’ve been given. I have everything I’ve ever wanted: a great home in a great city, the love of my life, amazing family and friends who love and support me. So why am I not happy 24/7 , 365 days of the year?

        That old expression of wisdom you brought forth is so enlightening. We can never be happy, because the whole reason for living is to be angry, saddened, confused, and curious. It motivates us to live our lives and produce something from them. Then, when our last breath leaves our lungs, we can glance and finally smile, TRULY smile.

        Characters in your favorite stories are never simply happy. That would be the dullest and shortest piece of crap. They are brash, hotheaded, timid, angry, selfish, lonely, and wonderful. They allow us to relate to their imperfect nature and reveal that the world is also imperfect. Never could an author write a stable, ultra-happy protagonist. Life simply doesn’t work that way. We forget that all too often. Our society forgets that. These stories remind us, and show us it’s normal, even important to be flawed.

        This is why I think the parallel you draw between your life and a story resonates with me so. We are our own masters of a flawed universe. And it’s this thought that has made me happy.

        • I’m very glad you did a bit of dissecting. I’ve never thought about the fact of the best characters being almost anything but happy. That’s really profound! I love how you say they are “brash, hotheaded, timid, angry, selfish, lonely, and wonderful”. You’re absolutely right. It’s honestly given me a lot to think about.

          Another cool thing that’s right on topic with what you’re saying is a TED talk by Jennifer Senior called “For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar.” In it, the speaker talks about how the greatest gift parents give to their children is the desire to be good, productive members of society, and not for them to so constantly instill a desire for happiness. She says that happiness is illusive, and usually only comes when we are good, productive and contributing members in our community. She even makes the point that our current ethos of always trying to attain happiness does nothing but make the situation worse. You might like what she has to say.

          Thank you so very much for your thoughts, Chelsea. They’re simply great. Keep ’em coming!

  • You say that no man is an island, that these authors you have read influence you as a writer but how much do they influence you as far as say concepts go? Is your sci-fi reminiscent of Hitchiker’s guide to the Galaxy. Do you find characters like Ender popping up in your own work merely because you’ve read and enjoyed those stories?

    • Good question, Fen. I do believe that the kinds of characters I’ve encountered in fiction have influenced me, as much as the characters I meet in real life influence me. One specific case: I think of Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Something about her character—strong, unsettling, bizarre, and intelligent—tends to pop it’s head up now and again in the characters I create, especially the female characters. But I like to think that it’s only her spirit that inhabits these characters and that my own creations are still unique. She is oddly archetypal to me.

      That being said, it feels pompous to say something like, “my own creations”. I try my best to just follow the muse and I tend to find my best characters are the ones that I simply let be themselves. That sounds like a cop-out but it’s not. The best characters are the ones that present themselves to me, rather than the ones I try to conjure up out of my own feeble imagination. Writing is sort of mysterious that way…

      Does that answer your question?

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