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Monday, October 8, 2012

Why I Write

It was proposed in my writers group that we begin some fun extracurricular activities to help motivate our work. The question was asked, “Why do you write?” It took me aback momentarily.  What a silly question, I thought, but was stimulated into deep contemplation. The short answer is that I write because I must. There is an undeniable yearning inside me to tell stories and so I do. Of course, it was not quite so easy to fully embrace my calling. 

My journey to this place where I, after all of these laboring years, finally feel comfortable calling myself a writer and desiring to make money solely by creating works of fiction has been tremendously long, winding, and often confusing. Kind of like the previous sentence. 

My fondest early childhood memories include reading in bed with my mother. I lay swallowed up under the adult sized blankets with a stack of Dr. Seuss books as my mom embraced an Agatha Christie mystery. Those fond memories also include my father telling me absurdist bedtime stories where the characters were creatures that did nothing except be exceptionally silly. Better yet, late Sunday mornings when I was (finally!) allowed to wake my dad up, I would crawl into bed with him while he spun tales of animals who would never coexist on earth having an adventure. Imagine a giraffe and a penguin going to the candy store together—those were the best of times. 

I will provide some context by saying that he was and still is a blue-collar warehouse worker and my mother a housewife. I didn’t grow up in a house of artists or writers or film makers but I was reared in an environment where imagination was celebrated and encouraged. 

My language arts skills were nurtured further in public schools where I was years ahead of my peers in reading and writing. I even had the honor of reading a copy of The Tortoise and the Hare on stage at my kindergarten graduation. In third grade, I had a poem about a snowman submitted by my teacher and printed in the local newspaper (the clipping still lives between the thin plastic sheet and sticky back of a photo album in my parents’ house). In later years, we were assigned to write stories that would be shared with the younger grades. These works of fiction were even illustrated by us, laminated, and spiral bound. 

In fifth grade, I wrote about two neighboring dandelions that fall in love and in sixth grade about a skateboarding ten-year-old boy who plummets down a sewer and ends up in the land of the Leprechauns where he is charged by the Leprechaun King to find his lost daughter. (Steal these ideas if you like—Just remember they were written by a ten and eleven year old girl, you horrible person, you.)

In eighth grade I wrote an autobiography as a final project for English class. In the section where we project what our future will be like I wrote that I wanted to be an English teacher or a writer.

Then came high school. Oh that glorious period of endless mischief, reckless abandon, and insane freedoms. Those four years transformed me. By graduation I had my heart and mind set on becoming a criminal profiler just like Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs (which I read numerous times the summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college). After one semester of criminal justice, I reckoned that lifelong exposure to death and the criminal psyche would be too damaging to my spirit and so fell back upon my original passion, stories. 

I changed my major to English and my minor to Creative Writing since it was not offered as a major.  This plan also flopped. I didn’t want to spend the bulk of my time critically analyzing old pieces of writing as English majors do. I want to spend my time writing new pieces of fiction. So, I came to the conclusion that I should quit school and rethink life. This, coincidentally, is an extremely easy decision to make at age 22.

I chose to go back to school after a year or so of working part time with no aim or goals to fuel me. I knew I needed some direction or I would be destined to slave away at retail stores for minimum wage the rest of my life. What could I do that would be an affordable education and rewarding?  I landed on interior design, which I postulated would satisfy both my left and right brains with its mix of creativity and logical order. Boy was I wrong. Studying interior design was essentially studying architecture, which for me left very little room for the kind of freewheeling open-ended creativity that I yearned. Buildings exist in the real world, after all, and have to be structurally sound. 

After a period of soul searching I quit Interior Design and moved on to art school to study what I really wanted to study: Fiction Writing. Yes, there really is a BA (or BFA if you’re so inclined) in Fiction Writing available and I have the student loan bills to prove it. The two years I spent constantly creating fiction were some of the most rewarding years of my life. I left them behind feeling impassioned toward my calling. I also left them with a desire to seek out a stable form of income for myself and so the career-building phase of my life began. 

I quit what I considered my “while-at-college-job,” moved across country for what I thought would be better work and came back to the same “while-at-college-job” within a year of receiving my BA. It was a crazy ride that pushed me farther into financial troubles but it was well worth the effort if only for the intense personal and spiritual growth I acquired while on the journey. I regret nothing.

The latest phase of my life has been my coming to grips with the fact that there is no stable form of income to be found if I’m going to do what I love. I need to create a job for myself, not work for someone else. What I intend to create is a career selling fictional tales that I have conceived and written. 

The last 18 months have been all about finding a balance between working a day job, writing a novel, and having a personal life. It is not easy. I’m still learning but getting better with every month that passes. I’m also unlearning bad habits like procrastination and being overly critical of my first drafts.  I feel more fulfilled now than I ever have. I will keep my pen on the page and my fingers on the keyboard until I look back and find a body of work of which I am proud.

“Seek and you shall find.” Never a truer statement was said. I sought out a path that never existed because I didn’t trust my instincts or my heart would lead me right. I think that is something we all have to go through, a testament to the power of personal growth. And maybe some of us don’t.  Maybe some people are born knowing who and what they are and work every moment toward those ends. It matters not what path you take get there as long as you arrive.

Why do you write?  Post answers in the comment section. I'm interested in the motivations of other writers (and people in general) and would love to hear about your journey.

3 comments:

  1. Haven't read a writer's story yet that didn't involve a love of books, a wonderful imagination and the determination to follow their dreams. :)

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  2. Wonderful essay! I can totally relate, as well. Although writing was always my passion, somehow--I'm still not quite sure how--I ended up becoming an international economist. It helped pay the student loan bills (graduate school included), but in the end did not keep me fulfilled. I'm finally embracing my calling to write creative non-fiction (at 48, I guess it's never too late), and am loving the ride. Can't wait to read your fiction! See you over at She Writes recording our word counts!

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  3. Martha, the best thing about writing is there is no absolute expiration date on a person's ability to do it. Bradbury wrote every single day until the end, bless him!

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