George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, Why I Write: "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
A lot of effort goes into writing a book, enormous amounts of time and energy. There are times of great excitement and moments of suffocating doubt. There is hope and promise and turn-the-page anticipation when creating something in the sweet glow of afternoon where nothing existed in the early calm of morning. There is also the opportunity to gauge the thickness of one's skin and the stoutness of one's heart if rejection comes knocking, at once so marginalizing and discouraging that it seems as if the very demon of Orwell's essay is laughing hysterically at the folly of such a subjective undertaking. High highs and low lows are all part of the package. And by no means is the foregoing restricted to the writing profession, but still, it's all there, all over the chart, sort of like the Dow Jones nowadays.
I began writing Shall Never See So Much several years ago while I was still traveling 46 weeks a year as a member of the corporate world. I wrote at home, on airplanes, in hotel rooms, and sometimes made notes (mental, mind you) while driving rental cars. I chose the year 1968 to provide a setting that I thought would be interesting. I chose a brother and sister through whom I would tell my story.
I also wanted to write a blockbuster bestseller, become wildly famous, extensively followed, enormously wealthy, and then churn out a new smash hit on my June birthday every year for the rest of my days.
And why not? What writer doesn't covet the literary Heavyweight Championship belt?
That's not the whole of it, however. So why do it? Why persevere?
Because writers have a story they need to tell and a point they need to make. My story in Shall Never See So Much involves the bravery of my characters in their times of turmoil; my point is my belief that the human spirit is essentially, fundamentally, demonstrably heroic. I believe it because I've studied history. I believe it because I've seen it in the lives of everyday people, like my grandmother and my parents. I still see it, in my wife and kids, and now I'm starting to see it in my grandkids. They're heroes to me, real heroes, and they inspire me by their example.
That's the story I wanted to tell, and the message I wanted to impart. That's why I write. That's where I find the real worth.
That's my purpose.