National Book Award-winner Pete Hautman has written everything from science fiction to mystery to romance, for everyone from teens and pre-teens to adults. He joins the long haul series to talk about another of the reasons writers write, even if we only admit it to ourselves.
The Next Book I Write Will Save My Life
My bona fides: I’ve been a full-time professional novelist for twenty years. I’ve published twenty-eight books in various genres with four different publishers. Some of my novels have won prestigious national awards, while others have tanked so badly that my royalty statements show negative sales. I had a couple of years where I made more money than I could spend, and far too many years with an income that would have qualified me for food stamps. My books have been both praised and condemned by great intellects, and given a similar treatment by great fools.
I have hours and sometimes days in which I cannot imagine why anyone would want to read what I write, much less pay for the privilege, and other moments when I cannot imagine why anybody would want to read anything written by anyone other than me. I have written novels that will never see print, and novels that I wish hadn’t seen print.
What keeps me going? Why write when there are so many other things I could be doing with my one and only life? Why not become a savior, a saint, a martyr? Why not make a ton of money and surround myself with luxury? Why not raise a litter of children and disseminate my DNA far and wide? Why not watch TV and drink beer all day? Why not stop breathing and maybe find out that I’m wrong about what happens next?
A few years back I read a novel called This Book Will Save Your Life, by A.M. Homes. I picked it up in part because I’d recently heard a radio interview with Homes, and I liked what I heard. Mostly, though, I was attracted by the title. I enjoyed the book. It’s a funny, smart, magical-realistic tale about a lonely, dissociated man who discovers that he is not alone. I would recommend it to many people. But—and this is not intended as a negative—the title was my favorite part.
There is this writer thing that writers don’t often talk about, not even to each other in the dead of night. You see, we are all drowning, and that is the reason we keep writing, because every new book is the book that will float us above and away from (choose three) irrelevance, poverty, mediocrity, madness, obscurity, obloquy, ourselves.
I believe that at bottom this is true of all writers, be they poets, literary writers, genre hacks, ghost writers, memoirists, or diarists. It may be true of all artists, of all craftspeople, of anyone with the arrogance to attempt to create something that does not already exist.
The next book will change everything. The next book will make sense of all that I have experienced. The next book I write will save my life. And as pompous, as hubristic, as crazy as that sounds, I believe it to be true, and so I write.
Pete Hautman is the author of more than twenty novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash. His young adult novels range from science fiction (Rash, Mr. Was, Hole in the Sky, and The Obsidian Blade) to mystery (Blank Confession) to contemporary drama (Godless, Sweetblood) to romantic comedy (The Big Crunch, What Boys Really Want.) With novelist, poet, and occasional co-author Mary Logue, Hautman divides his time between Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Stockholm, Wisconsin.
Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts
– Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
– Steve Miller on building a writing life
– Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
– Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
– Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
– Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
– Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
– Sharon Shinn on managing time
– Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
– Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
– Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
– Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
– Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
– Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
– Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
– Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
– Kathi Appelt on the power of story
– Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity