Back when I was fourteen, I asked my mom if it was okay if I stayed up late to write. She said okay and then asked, “But why do you write so much?”
The question caught me off-guard because I’d never thought about it. I’d been writing for four years and I’d never stopped to wonder why. I told her, “I think it’s because I have all of these thoughts in my head and if I don’t write them down I’ll go crazy.”
It was a good enough answer. Maybe, at the time, it was even the right one. But the question stuck with me. I didn’t know why I wrote. I just knew I wanted to keep doing it.
The reasons why I started writing and the reasons why I’m still writing twenty years later are very different. I started writing out of sadness and loneliness. I started writing because I was ten years old and I felt sad and alone and making up fictional characters made me feel… well, less alone.
When I was in my teens, my dream was to become a bestselling author. It was all very clear: I’d write novels, become rich and famous, and buy a mansion by the sea. I say it was my dream but I don’t think it was ever, truly a goal. It was never more than an entertaining thought or something to tell people when they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.
A few months ago, while I was in FL, my mom told me that my next book should be more mainstream. “Write something everyone can read. Then when you’re rich, you can write what you really want to write.” This has been her advice to me for years. It would vary given the flavor of the year. First, she told me to write the next Harry Potter. Later, the next Da Vinci Code. Most recently, the next Twilight.
My reaction to this advice has evolved over time. Back when I was twenty-one (when I first received it), I think I said something like, “Yeah, maybe.” Eventually, I said something like, “I’m not sure that’s for me.” This time around, I told her, “It’s not happening, mom. That’s not why I write.”
It felt good to say that because I’d always felt doubtful. Her advice had always seemed so logical to me. Why not write mainstream books? Why not hop on the teen sorcerer/vampire train?
The truth is that being a rich, bestselling author has never been my motivating factor. When I was ten years old I wasn’t thinking about a mansion by the sea. I was thinking about the kids at school making fun of me and how horrible it felt to be an outcast and how much I missed Puerto Rico and how miserable I was.
These days, I’m neither lonely nor sad, but I remember being lonely and I remember being sad. I remember a time when I had no friends and I remember a time when I thought life wasn’t worth living. I remember struggling through the language barrier only to find that things didn’t get any easier after that. I remember thinking that there was something wrong with me. I remember trying to fit in and never quite managing it. I remember feigning interest in boys. I remember hiding my crushes on girls. I remember thinking I was going to Hell and that God was going to abandon me. I remember that I almost didn’t live past seventeen.
But I also remember standing at a bookstore and having a book fall from a shelf and land at my feet. I didn’t look at it. I didn’t read the back. I literally picked it up, carried it to the cash register, and took it home. That book turned out to be Annie On My Mind. And I remember reading that book and I remember crying and I remember thinking how badly I’d needed to read that.
All of my problems and issues and worries were still waiting for me in the real world after I turned the last page. I was still the same person I was before I read it. But the book has stayed with me all of these years. And though it didn’t make everything okay, it gave me something I desperately needed: hope.
The world is filled with breathtaking beauty and devastating sadness; rock bottoms and mountain highs. We’re constantly see-sawing between good things and bad things. Good news and bad news. Laughter and tears. There’s a lot of darkness in the world. I write the books I write because I want to toss a little brightness into it all; however small. I believe in love and I believe in equality. I believe the world can be a better place.
I write because I believe we all make a difference, every day. And I want whatever difference I make (however small) to be positive and uplifting. Perhaps we can’t change the world from one day to the other, but we can help push it in the direction we want it to go.