Is Attention the Primary Reason You Write?

This morning on Weekend Sunday Edition, Rachel Martin interviewed Daniel Menaker, writer and past fiction editor of The New Yorker and Editor in Chief at Random House, about his new memoir, My Mistake. Although I have since read the transcript of the interview, I originally missed the middle of it and returned to hear him say, “Yeah, I think we write for attention.” My immediate thought was, “That’s odd. I don’t think my main motive for writing is attention.”

Maybe “real” writers do want attention, but I want the story to get attention, not me. Sure, I wouldn’t mind answering some questions about the story or the writing of the story, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it face to face. For me one of the allures of writing is that I can do it behind the scenes and not have to be front and center. Yes, writers who are gracious and entertaining and informative the way Mary Doria Russell was at the recent Readcon event in Greeley are a delight, but it’s hard for me to believe that most writers want to be on the hot seat, being questioned and photographed. Most of the writers I know want to write and publish. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one of them talk about how they’re writing so they can go on tour or be featured on Oprah or interviewed on NPR. I don’t think one of us in any of the writing groups I’ve been part of have expressed a desire for fame. Publication, yes. The allure of money, occasionally, but most of us who have been in a group  long enough seem to give up on the big bucks and just aim and wish for publication.

My next thought was, maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong; I don’t want attention enough. Possibly that thought is related to another blog a writer-friend reposted the other day, The One Thing You Are Doing to Block Your Writing Success. In this blog the author talks about not calling yourself a writer and how that might be harmful to your career. In other posts on her blog she talks about Myers-Briggs type and relates that to writing and writers. I wonder if, in part, my response to her post and my not usually telling people I’m a writer is related to type? Or, in general, not liking attention being called to myself?

Of course, at some level I do desire attention, the attention of an agent, then an editor which will lead to the attention of readers. There is, also, the matter of the blog. Of course I want people to read my blog and comment and respond. I see that more as interaction than as attention-gathering, though. And yes, in the back of my mind I often have a specific person I want to read a particular work, but again, it’s mostly for the work that I desire attention, not me.

I’m wondering if others who write feel this way or if their primary motivation in writing so to gain attention to themselves?

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  1. #1 by Sharon Rawlette on November 25, 2013 - 6:31 pm

    I would definitely not say I write for attention. If that were the case, I would have stopped writing fifteen years and thousands of pages ago and turned to something that attracts attention a little more efficiently–like dancing naked in the street. Like you, I’d like my work to get some attention, maybe even be appreciated by a few folks, but the primary drive here is something inside myself. Something I’m trying to understand. Something I’m trying to create. Maybe I’m writing to figure out why I need to write…

  2. #2 by bkwins on November 25, 2013 - 6:53 pm

    Yeah, I don’t think writers write for attention. If you just wanted attention, you’d be an actor or politician or something like that. In most cases, I think it’s the difference between being introverted and extroverted. However, I do think we appreciate the attention we receive from our writing, and I think that’s because it’s indirect or filtered rather than squarely upon us. I’m happy to talk about my writing; don’t ask me to talk about myself.

  3. #3 by Saytchyn on November 26, 2013 - 1:29 am

    I think I’m interpreting attention differently from you. You seem to interpret it as merely craving the spotlight. I believe that if you want people to interact with you, you want attention. You also want attention if you want your work to move people. I do think the word, attention, has too many negative connotations and he should have said we write for interaction or some such thing. But if you think you have something to say or a story to tell, you’re asking others to pay attention to you.

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