“There is no better way to waste your time than by reading a novel.”
Now, before you get all huffy and defensive, this quote did not originate from my lips, or even my fingers. It’s something a well-educated, respected member of my local community (who is no longer with us) was often fond of saying. When I first heard it, not so very long ago, I was flabbergasted. I hold this man in high esteem, and to hear that he had belittled a craft I dearly love cut me to the core.
I think, as writers, we grapple with a lot of insecurity. For me, one of the worst is questioning whether I’m doing something worthwhile. I was raised in a religious home where I was taught that my life had great meaning, that I was here to become the best person I could be and make a positive difference in the lives of other people. I believe strongly in that mission, but not until recently did it seem to fit with my passion for writing.
As are most artists, writers are often criticized by our society. Writing is not considered a “real” job, but more of a hobby that foolish or lazy people with too much time on their hands pursue. I succumbed to this mindset last year, when my youngest child started first grade, and I suddenly found I had seven free hours in the day. I had been hoping and dreaming of that moment since the birth of my oldest child because I wanted so much to be a full time writer. And yet, when the day finally arrived, I threw that precious time away and took a job teaching at the school. For whatever reason—money, fear, prestige, trying to live up to other’s expectations for me—for a time I gave up on my dream of being a professional writer.
But no matter what curves life throws me, I always come back to writing.
So it is today. I no longer have a full time job. School has started again, and I am faced once more with seven free hours in the day. This time, I have resisted the urge to “jump sideways,” as I like to put it; to look for another job, or open a new business, or pursue some other “respectable” career. I have decided to focus once again on writing, and I have a plan that I hope will bring me success and a meager income. Because I still feel that I need to justify this obsession I have for writing stories.
And so, I look for reasons why novels are important, after all.
Novels are fiction, entertainment. Does that mean they’re nothing more than fluff? A way to waste your time tickling your fancy and escaping from the real world when there are more important, responsible things you should be doing?
Not all novels are created equal, and there are certainly some that could be a waste of time, but as I’ve pondered lately about the importance of fiction, I’ve found some reasons why I think the answer to these questions is “No.” For instance, a good book can influence the course of society by highlighting and playing out flaws, or teach children and adults the consequences of real-life choices. It can be used to explain an important principle in a way others will understand, and inspire them to overcome hardship.
I heard a story related once about author Tracy Hickman, who was approached by a soldier that served in Afghanistan. This soldier had carried a copy of one of Hickman’s novels throughout his term of duty and, while wounded, had saved the lives of his fellow soldiers because he was inspired by the heroic actions of the character in Hickman’s novel.
That’s the kind of stories I want to write: ones that have deeper meanings beyond the plot of the story. I want to write characters that inspire other people to make good choices in their real lives. I want to craft books that make readers ponder and examine their beliefs. And if I can entertainment a little in the process, then so much the better.
Because, in the end, I don’t believe that I have wasted my life reading and writing good fiction. I believe that there is a reason I love to write; that I have a mission to fulfill as I work to improve my skills; and that someday my books will influence someone else for the better. That is why I read novels. And that is why I write them.