Living in Paradise

Should I Keep Writing?

Should I Keep Writing?

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound? An age-old question. Similarly, if you write a book and only a handful of people read it, are you wasting your time?

The question surfaces every time I think about starting my next new book. I am still awaiting the publication of Under the Sand, my latest mystery/thriller. But already my mind is swirling with ideas for the next one—two, actually.

Several things have prompted my ruminations about writing on this beautiful May day.

First is my ongoing struggle to try to figure out if my writing is any good. People tell me it is. They say they like my books. I work hard to make my mysteries enjoyable, with unusual plot twists. Then I read something—a best-seller perhaps—and wish I could write descriptive phrases like that. Where the Crawdads Sing is beautiful prose and a mystery. It doesn’t get any better.

Sometimes, however, (and I’m kind of embarrassed to write this), I read something and think, hey, my books are better than this. I actually had that thought when I breezed through Scott Turow’s latest book, Suspect, a couple of summers ago. It was in preparation for his visit to our little island as a library speaker. I was excited to meet and have a lively discussion with a well-respected author. It didn’t exactly work out that way, but he was a nice guy and, obviously, talented. Still, that particular book was a disappointment.

A week or so after I read Suspect, I picked up Blood Oath by crime writer Linda Fairstein, who I have been fortunate to meet and get to know over the last couple of years. I had to share my opinion with Linda, who thanked me for my kind words but who, rightly, didn’t respond to my criticism of Mr. Turow’s novel.

I’m not saying that Scott Turow shouldn’t be a best-selling author. I’m still a big fan of Presumed Innocent. He is someone to be admired and emulated, if possible. It’s just that some books are better than others.

My next thought about writing was prompted by something someone posted recently on Facebook. Several people, in fact. It was a chilling set of numbers.

Here’s some of what it said:

  1. Eighty percent of US families did not buy or read a book in the last year.
  2. Seventy percent of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  3. Forty-two percent of college grads never read another book after college.
  4. Thirty-three percent of high school grads never read another book the rest of their lives.

What is the source of this information, one of the Facebook respondents asked? No one seemed to know. Maybe the data was made up, but it certainly gave me pause. Is all my work for nothing?

The final concern I have about writing is the publication process. Sure, you can self-publish as I have done and spend thousands of dollars trying to get your book noticed . . . and perhaps picked up by an agent or some influencer who can boost your sales by thousands.

Maybe your local bookstore will sell your books, displaying them somewhere among the hundreds of other books that no one buys. Like mine, which are on a bottom shelf of a delightful little shop that seems to think that Liz Chaney’s tome is more valid than my fiction. She’s on the “big” table.

So while I raise the question, I guess I already know the answer. Writing isn’t about selling necessarily, it’s about the beauty of the process and being creative. And if only a handful read what I write, then so be it.

If you haven’t picked up Leslie’s Voice, my first and still one of my favorite novels, it will be available on Kindle for 99 cents beginning on June 9. Kirkus Reviews is publishing an interview about me by writer Donald Liebenson and the book on June 17. Let’s hope I didn’t say anything to embarrass myself.