It’s the people, stupid



I’ve recently had a chat with a colleague at my rent-paying job, who asked me “why are you doing this?” when I told her about some of the woes of being an author. I could talk a lot about piracy, but I won’t.

I rather not dwell on the negatives, because the positives of this, my secondary job, are overwhelming. Often, I stand there, dumbstruck with wonder at this amazing thing we’re doing.

One of the things that keeps me going and makes all the difference between coming home after work, drained and unable to bother with the current chapter, and coming home and starting to type and adding words to the current story, is the reader and other writers. I received some incredibly weird emails from readers – my favourite story is that of some woman who told me I was a bad, evil person, because the first
part of my long free online story didn’t end the way she wanted it to end. Worst of all – she was dead serious. I wrote back and told her that if she paid me half a million up front, I’d write her novel the way she wants it. I also told her that I sincerely apologize not reading the mind of a person of whose existence I hadn’t been aware until she sent me an email, but that I would work harder on my telepathy.

Okay, I was snarky, but there are some strange people out there. But that’s the lunatic fringe, and it pales against the other encounters. There’s this story of a humanitarian aid work in Africa who was working hard to save lives in one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of recent years, and he wrote long, beautiful emails about how my words kept him going when his emotions were bled dry from all that suffering he dealt with on a daily basis.

And I sat there, stunned about how my words, the products of an imagination that can’t shut up and a huge amount of caffeine, could reach down to Africa, and give something to a total stranger, a real hero of our times, and help him get through the day, the week, the month, and the year.

Just a couple week ago, I met one of my long-term readers in “real life”, as she had business meetings in London. We hit it off immediately, chatted over coffee, then wine, haunting the cafes around Picadilly and Leicester Square, talking about people that never existed, but were real to us. Seeing her eyes light up as she talked about my characters and what she thought of my stories and what those triggered in her in memories and emotions, warmed me all over.

Praise is one thing, and of course every writer’s ego craves praise, but actually seeing this generous outpouring of emotion, that fire, that pure joy in somebody else – that’s one of the greatest gifts. In the end, I said to her that it was always a bit of a risk to meet
somebody in the real world, because one never knows if there’s chemistry or if there’s any kind of rapport. And all she did was smile at me and said “oh, I had no doubt.  Somebody who writes such beautiful stories could only have been a beautiful person.”

What to say to that apart from: “I’ll work harder. For you, for me, for us.” And to sit down, every day, religiously, to get those words out, whether I feel like it, or not.

Just today, I received an unexpected Christmas gift from a reader. She had read my free things on the Internet, and bought everything that’s currently available (one short story in an anthology), and she asked for more. Now, I’m not the kind of writer who hands out unpublished manuscripts to just anybody, but we’d been chatting for a while and we do have a relationship, and she was so impatient about it that I thought “sod it, let her have it”, so I sent her a couple stories that are not released yet. Today, I got a rather large (and probably completely inappropriate) gift from the largest online book dealer, which simply left me speechless.

I have no doubt she gave it out of the kindness of her heart, but I’m still a total stranger who is just working hard to get those words out. I’m not a celebrity, I’m not used to getting gifts like that, but there it is. People and readers are simply amazing – they are so generous first with their time, then with their appreciation of what they are receiving, and, in turn, they keep me going, because I feel accountable to them and even more responsible to this thing I’m doing.

Somebody out there wants to know how the story ends. Somebody out there needs a perk-up, or a reminder of the beauty of the world, of emotions, somebody is waiting to be made to smile and to dive into the worlds I’m creating and into the heads of people that are only real when I make them real. If I don’t sit down to write, it won’t happen.

I could talk for hours not just about the readers, but the writers and reviewers and beta-readers, too. While there are those small souls that are envious and spiteful and resent anybody publishing anything, most other writers are so generous with their time and advice and all other resources that there is a true sense of kinship, of community.
One of them, Alison, is currently editing my enormous online story for the love of it, and there are others, like the Canadians, that kept me going through a rough patch at the beginning of the year. There are writers like those reviewed here, Erastes, Alex Beecroft, J S Cook, and others over at Noble Romance, Jaye Valentine, Barbara Sheridan, nd others like Kirby Crow, who have given so much in their writing,
but are also completely graceful and generous when it comes to writing and life (and I’m probably forgetting two dozens of them!). The editors who respect the work and who allow themselves to be touched, even if it’s a “business”, all the hard work and creativity that goes into it, and the kinship of those who read, create, review, but most
of all, enjoy good fiction.

That’s why I’m doing it.

Aleksandr Voinov

Advent Calendar Giveaway!

As a Christmas give-away, I can only offer a copy of “Forbidden Love”,
my short story in Noble Romance’s anthology “Forbidden Love” to a
commenter to this post.

36 Responses

  1. There’s really no way to answer the “Why are you doing this?” question, is there? If anyone asks in the first place, it implies that they would not understand the answer if you gave one. You know why in notes from someone a world away, and the eyes of someone else you never thought you’d meet.

    Best on all your future projects. Happy Holidays.

    • Well, I’ve tried saying “because I don’t need sleep” and “I’m a f*cking masochist”, but that they understand even less. 🙂

      Thank you – and you, too. 🙂

    • Oh, I disagree that there’s no way to answer that question. The answer, in any case, is, “Because I have to.” 🙂 Not that that makes writers sound any less crazy.

      • Yup. Maybe I could reword the post. The writing is compulsory… the publishing/showing stuff to others where things really reach out. You can happily write without publishing, but for me one really goes with the other.

  2. I should print this out and give it to my mother, who doesn’t understand ‘why’ in the slightest.

    • Don’t you have the feeling that ‘why are you doing this?’ is like asking ‘what’s so great about Jonny wilkinson?’

      If you have to ask the question, you’ll never understand the answer…

      Good post, AV


      • Oh, definitely. But people are still curious – and writers are very strange people, if you watch us from the outside. All that talking to people than don’t physically exist and all the massive ups and downs of rejection and acceptance…

    • I guess writers just can’t help it. There’s a good story – somebody once asked a famous writer: “How do I know if I’m a real writer?” and he said “stop writing. If you can, you’re obviously not.”

  3. Isn’t ‘why are you doing this?’ the same as asking ‘ why are’

    Awesome and very touching post. Very much like you.
    *hugs* (:

  4. “stop writing. If you can, you’re obviously not.”

    When I’m not writing, I’m writing in my head.

    The best thing about my writerly fl? I realise I’m not mad or maybe I am…cuz that obviously helps. Either way, others are equally mad.

  5. Each day we get such wonderful and different gifts from the contributors.
    Lovely post, Aleksandr.

  6. I love the story about the humanitarian aid worker in Africa. That is very cool. 🙂 I’m glad you get the things that give you joy about writing.

  7. I’ve tried the excuse that “I write because the voices in my head won’t stop telling the stories until I write them down.”
    I got strange looks.
    These days, the muses control my dreams, I think.

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s nice to see how a single person’s efforts, words typed on a screen, can influence and impact the lives of others. It’s beautiful, simply put. Renews my jaded hope in humanity.
    And it’s these sort of anecdotes from authors that prove writing is truly an art form. It reaches out and touches the audience in some way. Much like gazing upon the Mona Lisa has a certain effect on people, whether they’re hardcore art aficionados or regular Joe’s off the street.

    Thank you for sharing this. And happy holidays. 🙂

  8. @Jeanne: Thank you. 🙂

  9. You’re a lucky man, Alek. Makes me wish I were more conveniently located! 🙂

  10. Re-post from LiveJournal (under a.k.a. cboy_junkie):

    I really enjoyed reading this one – the writer’s perspective on his work, readers, reviewers, other writers. Very thoughtful piece. And thank you for the nod to the Canadians. We’re usually a practical and no nonsense bunch and recognize a good thing when we see it. Or as in this case when we read it.

    P.S. No need to put my name in the hat for “Forbidden Love” as I already have the anthology.

  11. @Indi: All the Canadians I met were great people. I believe I still have to pick a fight with one of them. 🙂

    Thanks, Indi, much appreciated. The others still have great odds. 🙂

  12. Honestly, I don’t know how authors managed to stay sane in the old pre-internet days! It is wonderful having an online community helping each other. Like you, I’ve found other authors incredibly willing to lend a hand (and occasionally a shoulder!) ;D Great post.

    • I think it happened, too, but probably in coffee houses or “the literary scene” of ye olde days. So many authors crave their own kind… they are bound to meet and help and butt heads every now and then. 🙂

  13. Great insight into your writing, Alek.

    I’ve been stunned to find what a generous, supportive community the writing community is. I’ve only been immersed in it for less than twelve months and I already feel confident enough to swim without floaties!

    What I find amazing is the way the internet has allowed people from such diverse countries, England, US, Germany, Canada, Africa and Australia 🙂 to share so much so easily.

    None of this would have been possible without it.

    Why ever you do it, just keep on doing it.

    • Yes. We’re truly one “tribe” – and the Internet is the perfect medium. Just the ease of sending an email to an author increases communication. I still remember the times when the only contact address you got for a writer was their literary agent/publisher!

  14. Well, there’s always, “It keeps me off the streets.” But you’re right – that reassurance that *somebody* got it, actually heard what you were saying, is what it’s all about.

  15. I’m a fan of authors in general. (And a big fan of yours specifically)
    I admire anyone who puts so much of their inner dialogue ‘out there’.
    I’ve noticed that people will complain to authors about there work, and will be downright rude. Why would you complain to someone who had the fortitude to share will you their vision? That’s the point right there. ‘Their vision’
    I read your online work during the summer and loved it. Lost sleep and cried over it.
    Yes there were parts that I wish were different but overall I adored it. Even the parts I disliked added to the story and that makes you a great writer.

    • @kayez: Thank you, that means a lot to me. Not sure if you’re on Goodreads – there’s a discussion of that work, and I’m currently editing that text to get rid of typos and other errors – you can find the new version on my website at

      Thank you again. People like you make an emormous difference to a writer’s happiness.

  16. You’re a beautiful person. Has it occurred to you, you received that gift precisely because you’re not a celebrity – yet? That act of giving could have a lot of value for the giver and as such, better that the recipient be someone he or she knew would value, not the gift, but the expression of his/her affection and love for your work.

    Like most of your fans, I will likely will never meet you face to face but through your stories and your blog posts, you’re already someone I’ve known all my life. Thank you, Alex.

    You know that old song, ‘Just The Way You Look Tonight’ (My Best Friend’s Wedding’)? I’ll think of you if one day I end up in the dark Africa of my soul.

    • @Elaine: I think being a celebrity is probably overrated. Just today I read an interview with the author of “Corelli’s Mandoline” and he said that after the success of the first book, he felt there was somebody watching over his shoulder all the time, which distracted him from writing. And i think only a writer or a book lover really *gets* what that means. We work hard on “vanishing” in the book – it’s an open door for me, once I step through, I’m gone. The act of writing shouldn’t be conscious, it’s the easiest way for me to fall into writer’s block (“oh no, what are you DOING, Alex?”).

      Of course I wouldn’t mind getting a steady income from the writing, but I don’t want any kind of fame or fortune to intrude upon doing it. And i’m unsuitable for that lifestyle anyway – I’d be the author that cancels an interview because he was struck by inspiration in the taxi! (I’ve skipped out of social interaction five minutes before it started for those reasons – some people believe I’m terribly rude).

      Your gift is very much appreciated – every time I pull it out, I catch myself smiling. And it’s amazing we can form connections like that. When Nicolai happens, much of that will be because of you. 🙂

  17. Very nice — very thoughtful — post.

    I have no answer myself, except that I can’t not write.

    • Totally compulsory. The universe is having a laugh every time it creates a writer. “Here’s another one! Another one who listens to voices in his head and struggles maintaining personal hygiene and grooming standards towards the end of a novel! Haha!”

      But, I wouldn’t want to change it for the world.

  18. This is a lovely post! And you’re right, essentially a writer writes for the love of it; because they can and they have to. But knowing that there are people who have read your writing and been touched by it is worth everything.

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