Actually, the question should be not what do writers write for, i.e. not what good does it do to write, but rather who do they write for.
The answer is that writers write for other writers or they write for themselves.
As I have mentioned in any number of blog posts, I write because I have to. That is either because there is a little voice in my head that is juxtaposing words in such an interesting and irresistible fashion that I am thereby forced to get myself together and jot them down, or because extended periods of time without my hands coming in contact with a keyboard often result in sickness and depression.
Again, writing seems to relieve something deep inside of me. Seeing letters pop up on the monitor has an existential purpose — I write, therefore I am.
But I suspect — and you may correct me if you please — that many writers actually are writing for other writers. This is either because writers are a sort of fellowship like stonemasons or the printers of late medieval France or due to the fact that the only people deeply committed to hearing what other writers have to say are in fact their comrades in arms. That means that every reader is a potential writer, if he will only take pen in hand.
What’s more, nothing gets a writer more in the mood to write than having a good read himself.
It really oughtn’t to be this way. Writers should be looking for real experiences, not unlike the heroine of Pamela, Richardson’s great epistolary novel, who was ultimately torn between maintaining her virtue by staying locked in her room and writing yet another letter home to mum and dad or going out to have another adventure with her naughty master so that she would have what to write about.
Perhaps writers, or authors if you will, should be like Trifimov in The Cherry Orchard with a willing ear for everyone else’s story. We should be wholly concerned about what we can do for other people and give up thinking about ourselves.
Because writing very often is a narcissistic business at best, it would be best if the authors had a the reader in mind rather than considering him as a marketing factor.
Sure, all of us like to eat and getting a book on the market and watching it climb the charts must be a great way to make sure that we and our dependent continue to get fed regularly. But what has happened the novel’s original concerns as a genre?
Let’s face it, the novel was deeply concerned with social ills long before the 19th century when Emile Zola and Honore de Balzac made that a credo of French realism as did Dos Passos in the early days of the American 20th century. From the very start, the novel was taken up with what was wrong with society not as a whole but more specifically with individual failings in the most intense and personal way.
In this respect, the novel may be the rightful the heir to classic Greek drama and the Medieval morality play. Pilgrim’s Progress is about the perfection of the soul, albeit in a Christian setting, and reading books became an increasingly, intimate way to come in touch with internal realities in a way that even films cannot hope to approach.
But what does that have to do with what we as writers do and how we perceive ourselves?
A superficial glance at this and other sites might yield the impression that today’s writers are marketeers, that authors now pander after readers rather than using their skills to craft a platform or even a pulpit from which to exhort the reader to greater heights rather than comforting, aiding and abetting him in his private depravities.
Are we to write nothing but airport gift shop novels? Throughout the ages adultery, fornication and even incest have been the backbone of great literature, but is there nothing else to human existence?
A real concern for language, for form and how a novel is properly hammered together might be pathways to making writing a respectable, not to mention really profitable profession.
Once the reader has given us his undivided attention, we have a carte blanche to tinker with his mind. Why not sway it in the right direction?