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Why do you write?

May 29, 2009

Good question.

Do I write because I’m an attention whore, or am I an attention whore because I write?

It’s torture. As Hemingway said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And yet it’s bliss. T.C. Boyle said: “First you have nothing, and then, astonishingly, after ripping out your brain and your heart and betraying your friends and ex-lovers and dreaming like a zombie over the page till you can’t see or hear or smell or taste, you have something. Something new. Something of value. Something to hold up and admire. And then? Well, you’ve got a jones, haven’t you? And you start all over again, with nothing.”

I think that pretty well sums it all up. If you’ve never read T.C. Boyle’s ‘This Monkey, My Back’ on the craft of writing, I highly recommend it. It’s a good read. Everything that flows from the tip of his golden pen is a good read. I’m not biased or anything…

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. As a child, I wrote a ‘family newsletter’ once a week for a long time. I loved writing short stories in school. I wrote poetry. Badly. Still do. Still badly. But I write.

I’ve received praise and encouragement for my writing from the time I was in sixth grade clear through the two years of college I managed to squeak in while trying to care for a home, a husband, and three small children.

I became completely obsessed with the idea of being a writer back then, but still didn’t do much of anything with it. I took creative writing classes, tutored writing, and yes, I’m a sick puppy, because I thrived on writing research papers, waiting till the eleventh hour to even begin to put them together from the hundreds of notes I had on index cards spread out across the floor.

I ended up getting the award for Excellence in Composition the year I got my Associate’s degree. Me. A non-traditional student, out of all those students who graduated that year. My name is on a plaque in the office of the English Division. I’m still pretty proud of that. I was interviewed for the local paper when I graduated. My composition professor was interviewed about me and said “She’s made me prouder than any other student I’ve ever had.” I idolize this man, so that was pretty thrilling, yet humbling, if that makes any sense. I was interviewed for my hometown paper when I went back for a visit that summer, and excerpts from one of my short stories was published within.

And still… I wasn’t taking the possibility of a writing career for myself seriously. It was just for fun. I decided I wanted to become a high school English and Literature teacher. I wanted to work with young people and help them discover the writer within, nourish it, encourage it, help them to help it grow.

I didn’t follow through with that plan. I ended up becoming a single mom not long after I graduated, and I went to work full time to support three kids. I could have continued to take classes, but taking several months off work to student teach for a semester – unpaid – was not an option. Neither was giving up my day job in an office to sling hash for minimum wage to get by for a few months when there was always a baby that needed new shoes. (Or trumpets, or sports equipment, or…)

I was going to take another stab at it when I moved to Illinois. I was accepted into an education program at a university here, but… the problem of taking time off to student teach still remained. I’m still single, so it’s not like someone else can take up the financial slack around here for a few months.

Actually, I’m glad I didn’t follow through with it now. I’d most likely still put my own writing on the back burner and focus on developing the talents of other budding writers.

I wrote a fifty thousand word novel in November of last year during NaNoWriMo. I did it. It’s a mess, but I did it. I learned a lot from that. The first thing I learned is that it’s absolutely true that you don’t control the story, the story controls you. The ideas I’d had in my head all these years were for a horror novel. From Chapter One, however, it became something totally different, and my former main character is now a best supporting actor.

So now, I’m taking it seriously, finally. I know nothing. I only know that I can write. I’m determined to learn all I can from here on out. I began by following other writers and writing related accounts on Twitter, reading their blogs, absorbing their knowledge and tips. Next month I attend the local writer’s group for the first time.

I’m writing the next chapter of my life, and it’s pretty exciting stuff, folks.

Why do you write? What are your successes? Failures? Frustrations? Joys?

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