November is upon us, and for writers, this means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is here. After resisting its lure for so long, I decided to give it a go. Here is my profile; and the novel I planned. I plan to strategically not win, but that’s another post.
Writing is not easy. Every time writing feels like crossing the Sahara desert with chains on my ankles, thumbscrews on my fingers and my head in a vice, I ask myself: why write?
I started writing because of Harry Potter.
No, seriously. I wouldn’t have written anything if it weren’t for Harry.
I remember hearing whispers of a popular book about magic and wizards my second year in college. I wasn’t interested. At the time, I spent my pleasure reading time at Borders (RIP), specifically its small shelf devoted to manga. It was an oasis of familiarity to someone who felt lost in a country that was not quite foreign, but not quite home, either. I read everything on that shelf. Lone Wolf and Cub was a prime favorite.
I don’t recall the exact circumstances that got me reading Harry Potter. I think I passed by the bestsellers table in Borders and noticed the Sorcerer’s Stone. I wondered if it was the popular wizard and magic story I heard rumors about. I started to read.
I was hooked.
I consulted the Internet after finishing Sorcerer’s Stone and The Prisoner of Azkaban (Chamber of Secrets wasn’t available at Borders if memory serves). My home country has a thriving fan community where you can find fan-made manga—called doujinshi in Japan—based on published material. I wanted to find Harry Potter fanart akin to the doujinshi I used to read. What fanart that did exist was badly colored illustrations scanned straight from the books. What irritated me more, though, was this thing called fanfiction. They kept cropping up whenever I searched for Harry Potter. There was more fanfic than there was fanart. I remember thinking: who reads this stuff?
At last, curiosity and desperation got the better of me, and I read one.
My old life was ruined. Thenceforth it was hours and hours staying awake inhaling fanfic. Pre-HP, I was an ambitious student pursuing a double degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who made the dean’s list. Post-HP, my grades took a freefall. I stopped getting top marks. Soon, I barely passed. I failed out of Engineering. Failing out of Computer Science became a serious concern as the number courses I could still take to complete the degree got smaller and smaller. I graduated by the skin of my teeth.
I don’t exactly regret those years. I have a vague sense it could’ve been better, but I also acknowledge I wouldn’t have acted any other way. At that point, things had happened to me, and I had done things, that made me not know what it meant to feel joy. I came close to its peripheries when I achieved success or received accolades. Harry Potter was an instant dose of happiness. It was like food after starvation. Water that quenched the sulfuric flames burning me alive. Having something that made waking up worth the trouble. There was no contest, really.
I eventually joined FictionAlley.org and Fanfiction.net and wrote. I got into other fandoms. I immersed myself in Tolkien. I rediscovered Sherlock Holmes, my first love. I had a passionate affair with Naruto and One Piece until I gave up fanfic writing for a few years. I had to myself a serious question: why write?
It was a perfect maelstrom of circumstances, though I didn’t realize it at the time. The little dustup called the 2008-2009 financial meltdown was going strong. I survived the round of layoffs because I proved myself valuable, but that could change. Why slave for hours writing stories I can’t make a dime on? Am I not dishonoring the author of the stories I love when I write these things? Why can’t I grow out of this habit?
Then I harkened back to the dark days when good stories were the only things that kept me going. Those heady moments when I realized I was beholding the work of a master. My heart swells. My wash-worn clothes and comforting blanket fade away as the story and I become one. For that moment, I’m cradled between time and eternity. Then the spell breaks, and I sit back, made breathless by the beauty of it all.
Behind every one of these stories, there was a writer who gritted his or her teeth and put one word after another. Even the best of them confess a moment of despondency when they weren’t sure if their story was going anywhere.
I’m so very thankful they didn’t give up.
That’s when I decided: Let my stories be a light in a dark place. Let me write for the reader who took the time to tell me: “Thank you. Your story made my day.”
I remember this decision and keep on writing.
Why do you write?