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Writing for Free

Writing for Free


I stopped by Econofoods to pick up a dozen eggs for Sue. I was in a hurry because we were having a few guests over for Mother’s Day and so when I thought I heard a faint “Dr. Melarvie” and couldn’t identify the direction it came from, I kept walking; but then it was repeated, louder and with more urgency, from behind me. I stopped, turned and was greeted by the site of an individual so ubiquitous to the streets of Sturgeon Bay that to be out on a clear day and to not encounter him would be quite unusual.

He hurried towards me in his distinctive way. “…your diet book you wrote.”

I didn’t understand quite what he meant to say and so I just replied, “yes?”

“Your book you wrote.” I nodded and smiled. “My friend read it and lost 170 pounds.” Here, he pauses as he’d been speaking on one breath. “She just wanted me to thank you for her if I were to see you. She said it changed her life and that she’s never felt better.”

I nodded again, “Well, you tell her that I’m very happy for her, and that I appreciate her asking you to share that with me.” And with that he turned and shuffled off as quickly as he’d come.

I’ve had several people take the time to tell me that they’ve read my book and have lost weight, or that they quite enjoyed it, but I’d have to say that this last time was a record, and it made me think, again, about why I wrote it in the first place, the time having elapsed to such an extent that when I open the book now to a random passage, I can’t say that it is especially familiar. I think that everyone who writes, writes simply to be read by others; there is something to impart, either by story or by fact, and that is the driving force. I feel my strongest urge to write after reading a work of fiction, most recently The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. I finish the last word of the last sentence, and although I didn’t enjoy this ending as much as his earlier Middlesex, I still lay there thinking I wish I could write something like this, or if not like this, at least something that would leave the reader feeling as I do now at this instant.

Part of the allure of writing is the possibility of being rich and famous from said writing, or it not rich, at least famous from the dissemination of a widely read work, because, it’s all about being read. So, I found it instructive today, my encounter, as a reminder of why I wrote it, and why I should write in way of an explanation as to why I haven’t been writing.

I suspect that this person who lost all that weight most likely read one of my books I had given away for free for the simple reason that I’ve given away over half of the books in print, all in the past year, which had more to do with a 8x8x8 cubit of books in my basement rather than any altruistic motivation on my part. By my calculation, there are over 1800 books in a regional circulation of a population base of 25,000; and most of those being given away for free.

I ordered 500 books, which went pretty quickly, then I ordered 1500 books a few months later, I think at a time that coincided with, or slighted preceded the advent of the Kindle, or was the Nook first? The fact is, I enjoyed giving my book away much more than selling it because there was no pressure. I had crossed that bridge of not recouping any of the costs, and I realized that it was more important to me for people to actually read what I had written, and for that to possibly make a difference in their lives’.

Still, it was a lot of work, and not inexpensive to bring that endeavor to fruition, and I found that just because it is there does not mean that people will read it, although it helps if it is free. It is not like the Field of Dreams where you build it and they will come. They may not come, unless your name ends in King, Rowlings, Eugenides, Lamb…which gets to that being famous part, and of course, if you’re that famous for that reason, riches naturally follow.

I think, subsequent to my nonfiction project, The Relativity Diet (free copies available at my office–at least 20-30 are left), I became side-tracked about writing my next project,  fiction I imagine, with the goal of being rich and famous being foremost in my mind; and I just never seemed to get started because it all seemed rather hopeless because few writers actually do (become rich and famous) from their writing; and that brings me to my point. I lost my focus on the primary reason to write, and that is to be read, even if for free; and if you’re good or passable or lucky or some combination thereof, you might become famous, which is only secondary and of little importance relative to the primary.

Cool Picture. It has absolutely nothing to do with my post, but it’s pretty and makes me think of Infinity.