Any other reader but myself
April 5 , 2009

It was only possible for me to do it because it was necessary. I either had to write the book or be reduced to despair: it was the only means of saving me from nothingness, chaos, suicide. The book was written under this pressure and brought me the expected cure, simply because it was written, irrespective of whether it was good or bad. That was the only thing that counted and while writing it, there was no need for me to think at all of any other reader but myself...

—Herman Hesse, The Journey to the East 

A friend sent me that quote from Hesse, and this was my response.  

From the notebooks, June 27, 1990: 

That's certainly the initial impetus to write. Later, something else takes over—the need to be validated by society, I guess. That can be very destructive. If one always concentrated on the need to write, not the marketing, writing might not be so agonizing. I'm going through this right now. I was trying so hard to write what I thought was expected of me that I lost all joy in it. It was no longer what I  had to write. Ironically, once I had written a piece that had been rattling around in my soul all my life ("The Horse My Father Rode"), some of the drive of writing left me. I had gotten that obsession out of me and onto paper. It still remains to be seen whether I will return to writing. It's been about six months since I wrote anything, and I think the basis of my problem is that in order to write, I have to come up with a new subject matter, a new obsession. Because, after all, it is only our obsessions that keep us writing, keep driving us through all those lonely hours and endless revisions. It is only that feeling of flow, that oneness with the work, that truly rewards us for doing it. All the public accolades in the world could not truly force us to sit down and confront the terrors of a blank piece of paper. 

The irony for me was that this was the beginning of a four year writers' block—a truly miserable experience. I channeled my creative energies into doing visual art, but it just wasn't the same. The core of who I am is a writer, and I always felt like something vital was missing from me when I couldn't do it.  

I didn't find my obsession again until just before my step-father's death. I'd been persuaded by others that I was "wasting" myself writing genre and needed to write literary. I hated it, and the muse said, "Screw you" and choked off the wellspring. I finally gave myself permission to write the weird things I loved. I started writing fan fiction and that got the juices flowing again. After Tom died, I returned to original material, and finished my second novel the following year. Apparently, I had a new obsession, or a new need not to slip into chaos, despair, and nothingness. 

The good news: once I broke through I haven't stopped writing for anything close to that long since. I still occasionally get asked why I chose to write genre. My reply: "Because it's who I am." 

I should pull this quote out periodically to remind myself of that ultimate reader, the one I must please or risk smothering the muse.

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson