What originally motivated me to be a writer? That's simple enough. I scribbled and told stories from a very early age. Things weren't good at home, when I was a child. The adults around me all seemed so irrational and unreliable, I dreamed about other places and times where things might be better... or where the challenges could at least be understood and taken on with a bit of courage and brains. Reading helped for books could reliably take you far away from your troubles for a while. But I often felt I could come up with an even better story than the one I just read! Pretty arrogant for a little kid, but that was me.
As time passed, though, I started to notice something. Stories were great and so was art, music... in fact, lots of other creative pursuits offered escape from reality. And indeed, that was part of the problem! When you came back from your escape, the real world was waiting, and only once in a while did a story or movie or song equip you to handle real problems any better than before.
Yes, the arts are great for the spirit... but every single human civilization has had the arts. They all had painting and music and dance and storytellers. And I realized that, gorgeous and inspiring as it all was, it just wasn't enough. Just having art didn't make people better. It made the pain endurable, but it did not solve problems.
That's because a lot of art including storytelling is about making up stuff! In other words, lying. Beautiful lies, stirring lies. Magnificent lies. But lies nonetheless. Where, I wondered, was anyone trying to figure out what was true?
Then I saw it. Every civilization had professionals dedicated to dreams and wonder... but only one ever had an entire class of skilled workers dedicated to finding out what was real, and what was not. Scientists.
Now look at all the propaganda we hear about the relative merits of the arts, versus the sciences. Science is depicted as prim, meticulous, tedious, and narrowminded. The arts are portrayed as high, noble, vaulting, and spiritually fulfilling. Funny thing though. The ones doing all of this persuasive portraying are.... artists! Writers and actors and the like. Naturally, they depict their own field as wonderful and science as stodgy, at best.
In fact, though, we have risen for the first time to become a civilization that understands the difference between subjective and objective reality... what we perceive as true versus what really is. In times past, people seldom noted the difference. Today, most people will grudgingly admit "Well, I guess sometimes I can lie to myself." In other words, what I think is true may not be. Therefore, maybe I should listen to others sometimes.
It's a start. It's the most important breakthrough in wisdom in centuries, and it came from science. That impressed the hell out of me, as a kid. For honesty and self-restraint seemed in short supply where I lived, while fervid imagination and drama flowed copiously, with everyone around me convinced that they were somehow victims of plots or persecutions. I was enthralled that some group out there was putting truth ahead of their own egos, willingly testing their ideas with experiments and accepting it graciously when those experiments proved them wrong. To me, it seemed that was what being a grownup ought to be about.
No other civilization ever did this, though every culture had arts. It seemed to me that science was more rare and unique than scribbling and painting and primping and acting, so I decided to try and find a niche in that new world. Well, I guess I succeeded. I won my union card (my Ph.D.) as a real live physicist, who did good work and pushed back the frontiers of knowledge just a bit. I'm proud that I can say I was a scientist and an engineer and a teacher.
But you know what? Time teaches you lessons. And one lesson is that what you want to be isn't always the same thing as what you are good at! Fact is; I am a much better writer and artist than I ever was a scientist. I found this out when my artistic hobby (many scientists have one) started taking over! My sidescribblings turned into a novel that sold well... and then another that sold even better. People wanted to read what I wrote and listen to me speak and above all to share the far-off visions that I created scenes of wonder and possibilities about the way human beings may live if we do things right... or if we make horrible mistakes.
I've learned to live with this. Today I do very little science, and instead spend most of my time doing what I'm best at... what I was born to do. People today admire writers more than scientists, and that's flattering, but I don't care about that. What matters is that I've found away to contribute. I try to create stories and tales that deal with issues of honesty, even if the act of storytelling is itself an act of making up stuff. I sometimes call myself a 'professional liar', because I earn a living describing things that never happened to imaginary people. But people say it's a kind of truth, and I'll take their word for it.
Anyway, it's fun. And things could have been worse. I get to live in a rambunctious, fun civilization where people actually think we might send a bunch of people to Mars, someday. I'd love to see that. Maybe, with some stories, I can help a little to make it happen.