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Writing for Writing's Sake

There is an artistic premise going back hundreds of years which dictates that the most important thing about creative enterprise should be the process itself. There is absolutely no doubt that the painters of the Italian Renaissance like da Vinci and Raphael would still have painted if they have never received any financial remuneration for it, but, of course, there is a big issue with this.

How do you live if you dedicate yourself to your art and do not insist on getting money for it? Famously this is what van Gogh did sometimes exchanging a painting for a meal. And for many years, writers, artists, and musicians sought out sponsors to survive. I suppose the modern equivalent for a writer would be an agent and a company that will publish your book.

But is there any point in writing just for writing’s sake? I discovered writing because I ran a business that promised musicals and plays, mostly for all the major tour operators, but also for educational establishments and small theatres and I spent my winters writing shows about sunny days and my summers writing Christmas shows or pantomimes. It was the part that I was looking forward to least but soon realised that I loved this process as much as writing music and designing stage sets and costumes. The longer the production, the more I got out of it. I soon realised that what appeared on the page was very much an extension of myself if not indeed my experiences. There is no doubt that it was therapeutic and, in some ways, almost mathematical in that it had to hit certain targets and the show had to work. I cannot explain the joy of sitting in a theatre full of families and watching them move to the music and laugh at some very questionable gags. It’s incredibly rewarding. If you write novels unfortunately the only feedback you will get is through reviews and also social media.

If you could extend this analogy i.e. that somebody was in a theatre, watching your whole novel unfold, let’s be honest, it is highly unlikely that somebody will come up to you at the end and say it was terrible, you should stop writing etc. As novel writers we seem to be in a very vulnerable position, letting our books lose on the world, awaiting a response which can often be dependent on the mood they may be in.

I have only been writing novels and non-fiction since 2018, and when I’m asked why I started, I haven’t got a clue. It followed a bereavement, and I think that may have had something to do with it, but I wanted to spend more time painting again, and some of the ideas came from what I was painting.

It can be a painful process, can’t it?

The more I got into my first novel the more I wanted to say, the more I believed in my characters, the more they said back to me and then you really don’t know what to expect: whether people will reflect some of that back to you or they will just hate it. To be honest it’s a very big gamble.

But truthfully, I was doing it because it was a creative process. I had no expectations, and every time Lee and I meet a new author, they tend to tell the same story and it goes like this:

‘I just wanted to write a book. I wanted to write my book and I wasn’t bothered what happened to it after that. In fact, I would hope that perhaps some of my family and friends might read it and that they like it, but I wasn’t bothered beyond that.’

How soon this changes? It has nothing to do with arrogance or getting rich. You just become part of a process. I decided to publish my book on Amazon, not the least interested in sending it to agents, awaiting their response or criticisms. That’s just me. In my later years, I decided I didn’t want anybody else telling me what should be kept in and what should be taken out. I wanted it to be my work.

There's nothing wrong with that it is simply artist integrity.

From my point of view, it is probably more important than any other part of the process.

I often say to people how impressed I am by Jo Rowling because when she was offered the opportunity to have movies made about Harry Potter, she insisted that everything should be as written particularly, the fact that they were British characters in a albeit fictional British setting.

I published on Amazon, and then very slowly saw responses, and like most new authors, at first, they were really good, and then your mind starts turning over: what else could be done with this and how interested are people? Can I compete with established authors?

You inevitably get pulled in and I certainly did. If anyone told me at that time that I was going to write five sequels with another one on the way and two non-fiction books, I just wouldn’t have believed them. The process of my first book (including five paintings) took me almost a year to complete but as you may imagine it became slightly quicker each time. I have a duty to protect the characters and ensure that the history is right. Added to that are those parts of the characters that I respect and don’t want to change.

It's very easy to get bogged down with Ideas of what success is, how much money are you going to make, and where you will be in a few years. Here, at ASPA we will, of course, encourage any degree of success and recognise that the very word, "success" means different things to different people.

Let me put this to you:

Out of the following, which would you rather have?

a. A terrible book that makes millions of pounds.

b. A good novel that people enjoy and raises some funds.

c. A literary masterpiece that makes no money.

d. The best novel you could write, and it doesn’t matter if no one else reads it.

I would expect that different people will choose different answers. I don’t want mine to be a literary masterpiece, I just want it to be entertaining and hopefully something a little different to what people have read before. I’m interested in humour, as well as pathos and I enjoy digging deep into characters and finding that goodness or redemption when required.

Absolutely, it is okay to write for writing’s sake, because if we don’t, we will lose all sense of what art is. Art is very much part of our soul, one of the best ways for expressing ourselves and it often represents a universal language. Soon, AI will be able to create and reproduce almost anything, but would you really get on a plane to Paris to look at a version of the Mona, Lisa, painted by a computer? Of course, it would be interesting, but we travel to look at the original because of the history, what it might mean, who she was, what she was thinking, and of course what sort of relationship took place between the artist and the sitter at that time. Personally, I would also add my interest in the use of materials and techniques.

So, if you feel you would like to write just for the sake of it do so, and if you have greater ambitions, try not to try not to let anayone steal your art away from you.

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Thank you for a thought-provoking post. I liked: The more I got into my first novel the more I wanted to say, the more I believed in my characters, the more they said back to me and then you really don’t know what to expect: whether people will reflect some of that back to you or they will just hate it. To be honest it’s a very big gamble.

But for me, there is another, as yet unachieved, goal, namely to write something, which is intellectually stimulating. Stimulating who, you may well ask. Something that I can lean back and say, yes, that's a challenging idea explored through the written word. Pompous? Possibly. But it's there in the back of…


Jul 01

Enjoyed this. I'm different in that I've always written stories, but then got sidetracked for 30+ years by writing non-fiction, in conjunction with photography. It wasn't until my sixties, and a few health issues, that I decided the time had finally come to focus on fiction. As things stand now, I don't NEED to sell books, but I certainly want to. But having even a few people say they've loved my books is a huge boost. I think my answer to your 'poll' now would be d with a leaning towards b.


I totally agree, Rob, that it is fine to write for writing's sake. I loved the challenge of putting together my first (and only) novel and it was therapeutic too, during 2020 when our lives were turned upside down. BUT I was also secretly hoping that it would be loved by others just as much as I had grown to love it myself. The journey I took with my characters was a real delight and quite an eye-opener, to see how much control they would have as they took on a life of their own. I had no framework to work with, just an idea for the first chapter and it evolved from there. But then, it isn't a story…

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