The short answer is: I don’t know.
Wait! Don’t go away. I haven’t finished. I may not know exactly why I write, but I do have some ideas, and – true to form – I have written them down…
Sad and grubby as it is, this has to be acknowledged as a significant spur to my creativity. I may be in the gutter and looking at the stars, but I’m also trying to work out whether my gutter would benefit from faster wi-fi, and whether an open-plan gutter-extension would add value. When it comes to content, I write the books I want to write without – as my readers would no doubt confirm – much consideration for marketability or commercial appeal. But I can’t deny that I daydream sometimes about film adaptations, and not only because I want to brainstorm with Meryl Streep over coffee.
And yet! There was a time when I didn’t have to think about when my next pay-check was coming from – because I already knew: £1 a week, plus 25p sweetie allowance. And back when I was a child, I was at my most prolific. I wrote incessantly, churning out page after page of stories about aliens and time-travel, princesses and monsters, even a (poorly researched) epic about the Aztecs. I didn’t get any money for this, and I certainly didn’t have any readers. One teacher admitted he had no idea how to begin to mark one of my 150-page efforts and gave me 10/10 and a gold star purely on the basis of weight. No – something other than cash compelled me.
This is also, undeniably, one of my motivators. I am an inveterate teacher’s pet (10/10 is still 10/10, after all) and while I no longer crave the approval of my parents and my old English teacher Mr Pepperpot*, this longing has transferred itself onto readers, reviewers, organisations. My wildest dreams basically boil down to a need for the Booker committee to pat me on the head and tell me I’ve done a great job. A gold star wouldn’t go amiss, either.
3. To change the world
4. Because it’s fun
This is only partly true. I had the most fun writing when I was eight, when it was all about volume and quality control was just a twinkle in my future editor’s eye. As an adult I am a perfectionist, a procrastinator and a self-doubter, and as a consequence, writing can frequently be a fairly un-fun process.
5. Because not many other jobs will let me work in pyjamas
Now, this is undoubtedly a factor.
Okay, it’s becoming apparent that I’m no closer to understanding why I write, and quite frankly this analysis of my motivations isn’t making me look great. The truth is, none of these reasons come close to explaining it. It’s more that I find that there are characters I long to write about, and situations I long to explore. I am passionate about capturing the feel of a place that exists only in my head; trying to express an imagined atmosphere, even when I’m not sure it’s even possible. If the prospect of riches and admiration was taken away, I’d still do it.
And I don’t really know what that’s about.
*names have been changed