I spent the majority of the last two weekends writing a short story that may never be read by anyone other than the fifteen aspiring writers in my MFA workshop and possibly a submission editor at Writer’s Digest. Three weeks ago, I spent the weekend polishing an essay for the Sigma Tau Delta convention judges. Prior to that, I spent a month of weekends crafting a chapter of my novel. And the weekends before that, well…you get the picture. While nothing may come of these endeavors, the urge to write is wonderfully innate; it will occur with or without the promise of an audience.
The number of manuscripts and short fiction received and rejected each month by literary agents and editors is staggering. After months and most likely years of effort and sacrifice, the writer’s work is discarded for reasons ranging from undeveloped characterizations or plot to the quality of paper on which the manuscript was submitted. Those that do make it to publication rarely sell more than 20,000 copies. “Most often, books go unread,” asserts Anneli Rufus in Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto. “The fiction shelves in any library are heavy with novels […] that have not been lent for years. Thus the writer, knowing this as writers do, is even more alone. Who will deem my work worth his time to read? The few” (125).
So why do writers write? If there’s no audience, what’s the point? Gautier and Wilde would contend they write for the intrinsic value of art without function, l’art pour l’art. In his essay “The Poetic Principle,” Poe also avows “that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely noble, than [that] which is a poem and nothing more […], written solely for the poem’s sake.”
With its requirement of hyperawareness of the world around and the world within, perhaps writers write merely to stay fully conscious. Or perhaps they are compelled to tell a story, their story, to discover its meaning. Certainly there are those who seek celebrity and wealth and still others who simply maintain this one, seemingly unattainable goal. Then again, I suspect l’art pour l’art is reason enough for most. And so we write.