Why Write a Book?

It was a Saturday morning and I walked into my dentist’s office for an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. It is far from an appealing way to spend time on a Saturday, but I did have one interesting thought on my mind as a headed to sit down in the waiting room. A couple of years ago, I donated a copy of the picture book I wrote to the office, and I wanted to check and see if it was still there.
I’ve been to the dentist several times since I’ve given them the book, and I’ve always found that copy of “Zachary and the Planes of Hyland” sitting on a small table in the corner, in a pile of other children’s books put there for kids to read while waiting for their appointments. Evidence of it being picked up and looked through was apparent from the obvious collection of fingerprints on the glossy hardcover, and the worn spine that allows the book to easily lay flat when opened.
This day, however, I was met with a surprising scene. There were two young children in the waiting area (brothers) looking at the book together.
And when I say looking at the book, I don’t mean just casually flipping through the pages with a bored look on their face like an adult would with a random magazine. They were truly enjoying it, commenting on the “cool pictures”. Then the older brother says “Wait, let me show you…” turning to a full spread picture of Zachary the Airplane taking off. The younger brother responded with an astonished “Wow”, and a desire to read the words on the page.
I just sat there, occasionally glancing over at this surreal moment that was happening in front of me. Feelings of amusement and pride were producing a smirk on my face that my usual look of indifference was having trouble suppressing. The boys’ father was also in the waiting room, so I hope that I wasn’t giving off any sort of “creepy” vibe. I was unsure how to react to the situation. Do I say anything? Do I tell them that I’m the author? If I did, would I then have to pull out my driver’s license to prove it?
In the end, none of that happened. Due to a rare instance of a dentist appointment starting on time, the hygienist called me in after only a couple of minutes of waiting. I did share the amusing story with her before we started my cleaning, and the moment occupied my thoughts for the next half-hour as I was getting my gums scraped.
The whole time I was having the same recurring thought; “That is why I wrote a book.”
When I first started, I had no idea how to go about getting a book published, but I knew that I wanted to be a writer; a professional writer. I wasn’t going to be happy just having some obscure blog that nobody reads. I needed something more concrete.
I really enjoyed writing. A lot more than I thought I would. I was working (and still am) at a dull, go-nowhere office administration job. Sure, it pays a little better than most plus paid vacation days, but man do I not want to go and do it every morning. My writing was just a hobby. Something to do on the train while commuting to and from the job I don’t like. It felt really good having that creative outlet, but it wasn’t being shared with anyone. I wanted people to read what I wrote. I began to seriously look into the possibility of writing a book.
But what type of book? At the time, my son was about 5 years old, and I was reading him a lot of children’s books, so that seemed like a good genre to explore. I wrote the book with my children in mind. I named the main character after my son, and a secondary character after a daughter who was a still-born. I wrote the story giving the two characters a big sister/little brother type of relationship as a tribute to the relationship they didn’t get to have in real life. More than anything else, it was this connection to my kids that gave me the push to take the financial risk. I now have this touching tribute dedicated to my family, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted more.
It has been almost three years since I’ve independently published my picture book “Zachary and the Planes of Hyland”, and to put it mildly, it hasn’t brought me much success. I have had some gratifying moments along the way. I have gone, and still go to bookstores for author-signing events, and I’ve sold dozens of copies to people who are not relatives or personal acquaintances. But I haven’t sold nearly enough copies to make it worth it from a financial standpoint.
I accumulated a significant amount of credit card debt to self-publish my book, and I still haven’t paid it all off yet. It’s been a constant reminder that makes me wonder whether I made a mistake.
If you ask any writer why they write, no one is going to say they are doing it for fame and fortune. If that is their main motivation, then they shouldn’t be writing in the first place. Of course, we all see JK Rowling, Stephen King or Dr. Seuss and think “That could be me”. But when it comes right down to it, all any writer or artist wants is to have something they created appreciated by others. The most grandiose hopes an artist would realistically aim for, would to be able to make a living at it.
As for what I saw in that dentist office on that memorable Saturday, it’s a moment that I won’t soon forget. It was a little bit of gratification that something I created was actually good. All those people I’ve shown the book to, and who complimented it, weren’t all just trying to be nice. Those are the motivations that keep an author going. That keeps them writing.
Writing that picture book has not turned out the way I hoped it would, but I don’t consider it a mistake. The connection it has to my kids will always make it special to me. And while I’m not likely to ever achieve even 1% of the success JK Rowling, or Stephen King has, seeing my work appreciated (no matter how small the audience) will always make it feel worthwhile.
Plus, you never know what the future will hold. I’ve never stopped writing. I maintain a website of these personal works, I’ve written a Middle-Grade novel that I may do something with, and I have ideas for other novels I’d like to write as well. I can take the experience I’ve learned from my first book, and use it to do the next book smarter. If I’m never able to earn a living as a writer, I’ll be disappointed, but not as disappointed as I’d be if I had never even tried.
Of course…if I could reach the point where I can somehow pay off my credit card debt…that would be awesome.

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