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  • Leah E. Welker

Why Do I Write?

Updated: Mar 4

A hand holding an orange pen, writing in a spiral notebook.

Why do I write? Why do I put myself through all that blood, sweat, and tears? (Because, just so you know, it is blood, sweat, and tears, especially to produce something other people would want to read . . . .)

Much the same reason why I read: because I love to experience things I'll probably never get to experience in this life. I think that's what draws me to fantasy in particular—the magic, the wonder, the beauty that truly isn't accessible to us, but we can get a glimpse, a ghostly touch of it all the same through words strung together like magical runes to form an enchantment of illusion; if done skillfully enough, we can be entirely immersed, transported, elevated to a different type of existence.

Stories were the original "virtual reality."

So reading, like journaling, is awesome for me. I love reading. If all I had to do to experience what I wanted to experience was read, I'd probably never write a single story. (Similar to how, if a journal could satisfy everything I need to accomplish, I might never have written a blog . . . .) But therein lies the problem: I can't find what I want to experience in books alone.

I have to be very careful about the media I consume; more on that in another post, but the gist right now is that I get way too invested, way too easily. It's why I can't even touch the horror genre, period. It's why I can't do "dark" fiction, even dark fantasy. It would destroy me.

So when I decide to try out a new author, I am putting quite a lot of trust in them. My very mental/spiritual/emotional health for the next few weeks (or perhaps forever) is in their hands. That's why I tend to borrow from libraries first, or at the very least read a sample, and I read the descriptions and reviews with extreme care. Anything with the key words dark, thriller, horror, twisted, brutal, and the like, and I'm out, lickety-split. And guess what is so common in fiction, let alone fantasy, these days?  ̄へ ̄

But it's not like I want things to be all sunshine and roses. I do want emotion. I do want real struggle. An acknowledgement that, man, sometimes life is hard and unfair. Some stakes are nice, both for realism and for excitement and the payoff at the end. But I always need a sense of hope, a guiding light through it all, and above all, a faith that in the end, good will always triumph.

That's what I love about fantasy for young readers. It's not just that fairytale happily-ever-after. It's a belief in moral decency as the standard that's not just possible for society but one we should always strive for, no matter how we will inevitably fall short. It's a belief that there really is Someone out there, some Ultimate Good who is watching over it all and making sure that, in the end (even if it's in the next life), everything will be put to right. That's the kind of hope that got me through all the brutal deluge of nihilism and suffering that was high school literature.

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” —C.S. Lewis

Problem is, I'm not a kid anymore. I do like at least a little more maturity in my characters and themes. I'm still drawn to the YA genre, and now, as I'm learning, I think I might like some "new adult" that's catering to just my demographic: lovers of YA that have grown up. Problem is, the introduction of "adult" also introduces a lot of, yes, darkness, savagery, gore, and grittiness that I'm still not here for.

Why not Brandon Sanderson? I hear some of his fans asking.

Brandon Sanderson is great. He's an excellent writer, an excellent teacher (I took his lecture class at BYU twice), and an excellent businessman (really, he's a unicorn). I'm definitely a fan of how he's proven there's still a market for hope-filled fantasy. I loved what I read of his books for younger readers: the Alcatraz series was hilarious and The Rithmatist was fascinating.

I've had a harder time getting into some of his other works, though. And it's sometimes emotionally difficult for me to read Brandon Sanderson, especially after I decided to become a full-time writer, because I inevitably compare myself to him, and he's just a standard that I might never reach (*cough* especially since I don't know if I can build an empire run by dozens of employees dedicated solely to my books; really, when people say they love Brandon Sanderson, they should probably more accurately say they love Dragonsteel, because "Brandon Sanderson" would not be "Brandon Sanderson" without his host of minions that are the absolute envy of every author—but I digress).

Someday, I'll do a whole post on my complicated relationship with Sanderson's work, but it is not this day. The only point I'll really make right now for the purposes of this post is that what Brandon Sanderson is really lacking for me is in the romance department. That lack is fine—in no way is that meant as a criticism against, as I said, a first-rate author. Romance is not his brand. (At least from what I've read. I know he's published quite a lot recently, so there could be some new stuff . . . .) And that's fine. I just happen to love a lot more romance. What romantic elements he puts in there are nice—often quite insightful and refreshing, actually—but not enough to make me an obsessive fan. (And certainly haven't gotten me further than somewhere in Oathbringer in the Stormlight Archive. Man, those books are hard to get through.)

By now, you'll see I've created a very tall order for my reading material. In fact . . . so tall an order that my list of go-to authors is painfully short. Part of that is probably a lack of trying hard enough to find them, partly from a lack of time and energy for reading brought on by college and work thereafter. Now, when it's my job to pay more attention to such things, I know I'm out of the loop, and I'm trying to make up the lack, but I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

And so . . . like many writers, I write when I can't find anything out there that matches what I want to read, or, in other words, experience. And that really, truly . . . is the end of it.


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