I’ve been thinking the last couple of days about the “why” of writing. Why do I do this thing? Why do I want to? It certainly seems to be a tortuous experience, one in which I rarely see the point anymore, and yet I do it or wish I could do it.
I have a history of telling stories. Before I was writing them down, I was making them up. I had a running tale about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys in my head for years.
I used to it go to sleep every night, imagining new adventures and longing for a tap at the window so that I could go to Neverland and join the gang. Wherever I fell asleep, that’s where I’d pick up the next night. I never wrote those stories down and would be hard-pressed to remember even one these days, but I remember the ritual vividly. For a kid who jumped at every shadow at night, it was a self-soothing device, a way to control and direct a busy mind.
Writing came easily in school. I sailed through written assignments using the tension and anxiety a good student brings to every assignment to make my writing stand out from the crowd. In middle school, I started writing a lot of bad poetry and sappy romance stories. Mrs. Larkin encouraged me, for good or for ill. She complimented my required journal entries and read my other writings in those precious spare moments that teachers rarely have. She fed the beast.
I was always different from the other kids in my small farming community, though every kid thinks he or she is “different,” I suppose. I was bookish and quiet. I was a “good” kid–never in much trouble, never even got a detention in school. I was weird to some family. While I played rough and tumble in the hay and climbed trees as a young kid, by the time I was a teen, I preferred to stay indoors with my piano or a book or an old manual typewriter. I had things to sing and read and write. That different-ness became an identity. For a while, I thought being a pianist might be my claim to fame, but I didn’t start early enough and didn’t have the raw talent for it. It was a hobby and an outlet, but not worth pursuing as a profession. Writing, though…
I stumbled across some of my high school fiction a few years ago. There, in that old manual typewriter font with the jumping letters, my familiar voice still sounded from the page. The writing was stilted, rough, unpracticed, but my voice was still the same, if younger. That unquantifiable quality of “Amy-ness” has been on the page all these years, despite the different stories, different words.
Things never go quite the way we think they’ll go in high school. I didn’t go to college after graduation; I got a job. I worked in a variety of administrative support positions for years. I was good at admin work. I am still good at admin work. I understand it, and it comes easily to me, and I can’t count the number of times I heard how invaluable my work was to the overall operation of the department or company.
But admin work didn’t feed the soul.
I read a few books about freelance business writing, and since I seemed to always end up with the writing/editing/proofreading projects at my various jobs, I decided to work toward building a career in freelancing. I needed experience, so I started a portfolio and scrambled to get every unpaid or spec project I could get. Fiction writing went into a box, an idea for the “someday when the kids we don’t have are grown and gone, maybe” years. I didn’t write fiction for 15 years.
I did start that freelancing business, though, and until the big recession of 2008, it thrived. But forces beyond my control brought a lot of my work to an end, and by 2009, most of my work had dried up. To be fair, though, I didn’t really look for more. I was burned out, I think. I’d pushed myself pretty hard on a few large projects, and while I loved the work, the commitment had taken a toll. I used the downturn as an excuse to relax a bit.
Then came NaNoWriMo of 2009. A Facebook friend decided to try it, so I decided to do it with her. I’d had an idea–an image, really–simmering in my head for three years. I decided to see where the image would take me.
I wrote 105,000 words of fiction in November 2009.
Most of you who have followed me for a while know the rest of the story. Those words became Ravenmarked and Bloodbonded.
But still, the question of “why” remains.
Why would I do this to myself? Why go through all the torment, anxiety, sadness, disappointment, fear, and rejection for a few inconsequential stories? Why does any of this matter?
And the truth is, I don’t know.
But the other truths…
When I’m not writing, my head still weaves the stories. I still lie down to sleep at night, and my brain slips into that other world where I’m the creator, where stories play out in front of me and I watch the lives of the characters I love unfold. There is a sense in which we journey together–we are friends walking through the joy and pain and adventure of this mortal coil. If I don’t write down their stories, who will?
Even so, I could write those stories and keep them private. I don’t have to share them. But there’s something about an untold story that leaves an open circuit or an unfinished end. If no one else reads the story, there’s something unfinished–something raw that feels like it needs to be stitched up or closed. It’s an irritation that becomes painful in time.
Do I write for the income or the accolades? No. Not anymore. I’ve given up any hope or expectation of money or mass adulation. But I will confess that compliments about my stories or words are reassuring. The loop is closed, and it wasn’t a waste of time.
I can think of a dozen other hobbies more pleasant, rewarding, and productive than writing. Certainly knitting fits the bill. Playing the piano would fit, though I don’t play anymore. Exercise, though not exactly a hobby and not exactly pleasant, always feels great and produces good results.
I can think of a dozen other professions that would pay more and result in more accolades. I could go back to admin work. Indeed, I do keep thinking about it–I could get a part-time office job that would bring in some extra money. I am an excellent administrative support person.
The writing draws me back.
Is it some kind of sadomasochistic draw? Probably, a bit. There’s something weirdly good about living in this writer angst. I don’t get it, but I’ve seen other writers (and, indeed, other creatives) with the same affliction. Maybe it’s the striving–the need to keep trying to make it look like it looks in your head. Maybe it’s the fuel of those occasional accolades that keep us going–the junkie’s desire for more.
Maybe we just can’t stop creating.
I’ve said before that when I’m not writing, I have creativity “leaks.” I’ll go on a knitting jag, or I’ll organizing elaborate and wildly inventive camping trips for my troop, or I’ll start cooking new meals. None of these are particularly creative since I follow patterns and recipes and previous plans (I am, even in these things, an administrator). But I have an innate need to do something new, different, unusual–to follow an untrod path, even if I’m the only one who has not tread there.
And so I begin again.
Once upon a time, there was a writer who lost her Muse…