Over the years I have believed that I was a writer for many reasons. And whether I was documenting my teen angst in a high school newspaper column, pecking away at a novel (or two), or actually teaching writing to college students, I have found myself writing in one form or another for nearly 40 years. However, many of the reasons that I once wanted to write have proven themselves to be what I call the false prophets of creativity. They initially seem to be of good merit, but eventually fizzle away as time proves them to be feeble, futile, or simply false.
So today, as I prepare to step into yet another writing venture, I find myself trying to answer a most difficult question: Why do I do this? And this is what I have discovered about myself in the process of answering this question:
1. I write because the ideas won’t let me stop.
Yes, freakish and delusional as it may sound to those who don’t write, I have come to recognize the truth about all of those characters, plot-lines, and zippy snippets of dialogue that come to me at the most random, unexpected times. They aren’t going anywhere until I bring them to life on the page. They won’t stop whispering, pinching, poking, nudging and harassing until I give in. And while one voice always rises up as another is finally given life on the page, the lunacy of this process must be engaged. To attempt to block it all out only speeds up the hamster wheel.
2. I write because it calms my demons.
I’m not talking about the voices that tell you to write. I’m talking about the voices that tell you not to. The ones that scream fear and failure, the killers of the creative muse. The ones that promise shame with open secrets and judgment for acknowledged dreams. Every paragraph and every page that finds its way from thought to text steals a little bit of breath from those demons and assures me that I can and also must press through. And at the end of the day, I find that the rest of the day’s anxieties often step backwards out of respect to this process.
3. I write because it helps me make sense of the past.
We don’t always understand why our lives took the twists and turns that they did, but taking the time to put those twists and turns on paper always helps me to consider the possibilities. I can step away from my characters and their chaos and force myself to consider outside perspectives. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, I can ponder the equation of choice to outcome. Do we ever really go back? Is anything ever actually changed? Of course not. But there is a certain peace that comes with fictionalizing friends, family and foes. And in the end, some of the most powerful and satisfying writing is that which is done for my eyes only.
Finally, I have come to realize that equally important as understanding why I write is understanding why I don’t. I don’t write simply because I have ideas and stories to tell.
One of the things that I recently came to understand during a writing workshop with Sarah Smarsh at Austin’s The Writing Barn is that the value and life in our writing lies not in the story that is told, but in the voice that tells it. We have all lived through crazy crap, and if we lined all of our stories up in a neat row, there would be a lot of repetition in those tales: unhealed heartaches, disappointing relationships, life tragedies and triumphs. What should be different, what makes our stories and memoirs memorable, is the voice that emerges from them. The voice that both tells the story, but also lives on to tell others.
And with that final thought, the muses are satiated, the demons are muzzled, and the story begins.