Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I Write

I had to write an essay about why I write for a scholarship for a writers' conference. When I first read the question, I was totally uninspired, but then, I had a lousy day writing yesterday and found this:

I write because there are days when the writing flows. My fingers fly and words fall into place creating layers of meaning far beyond my original invention. This was not one of those days. This was a day when my course work reached critical mass and the stories I have been assigned clogged my brain until I didn’t know if I was writing my own story or channeling Lorrie Moore. My novel plods along and each word choice seems uninspired, dialogue languishes without subtext, and it seems unlikely I will be able to get my professor the required number of pages by tomorrow evening. The jig is up. It is clear. I don’t know what I’m doing.

It seems an odd day to pick up my pen and ponder the question of why I write. Today, were I to have come across one of those enthusiastic strangers who say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” I would have looked him or her in the eye and said, “Really? Trade you.” Because the truth is, there are more days where I’m likely to sit in front of the computer and find making tea or brushing the dog more interesting than my characters, a trip to the grocery store of more pressing necessity than getting my protagonist to speak to his estranged father. And yet, more often than not, I am sitting in my chair, day after day, asking myself, what happens next? What does that handprint really mean? What aren’t my characters willing to say to each other?

Established writers often tell those of us struggling for our first publication and contemplating eating Ramen noodles for the rest of our lives, if you can do anything else, and feel satisfied doing it, do it. Because if you can walk away from your characters, if stories are not pressing themselves against the gray matter of your brain until you think they will come out your ears if you do not write them down, if you can make yourself stop listening to the woman on the bus who says, “It’s a bad thing to die of, but I have that effect on people,” and inventing a dozen stories by the time she gets off at the next stop, then you may have what it takes not to be a writer.

I have friends who stopped writing and have satisfying lives, and, to some extent, I envy them. My life would be easier if I could stop, but I can’t. I don’t know why I write, I only know something is missing when I don’t. I simply don’t feel like I fit and nothing in my life works correctly. Even on days like today, when the words I am putting words on paper appear to be the wrong ones, I am connected to the world in a way that is deeper and more secure than anything else I have ever done.

And, then, today, the writing went very well. Plus I read over what I wrote yesterday, when it seemed to be going so horribly, and it wasn't bad at all. And, even though I was convinced I had lost the voice of the novel, I hadn't. Which all goes to show, I am the worst judge of my work while I'm actually doing it.

Another lesson to tuck under my hat where I'll probably end up forgetting about it next time I'm faced with a horrid day of writing and convinced everything is just dreck.

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