Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why Do We Write?

"I'd rather be known as a writer than do the actual writing."--My friend Sam, a published author

"I hate writing. I love having written."—Dorothy Parker

I wonder: Is writing really all about the completion, the ensuing love? Why choose this path, when one could have been so many other things: a goat herder, an accountant, a nailer of nails, a carrier of rocks, a subway mime? Fame and satisfaction might be theirs, too, and a lot faster.

Yes, having it done and sealed up and your love assured is fine and good, but then—the hovering expectation when anything can still happen. That is better, perhaps. The moment when the world goes still and silent and the only things still moving are your hands, small and clumsy in the glare of the screen. (Or, if you've taken a proper typing course, capable and sure. I have not. I have already established that I am a fool, and type with a special blend of four swift fingers.)

Why take this path? Why, for example, did I rise at 4:00 am last Wednesday and wander to the computer screen to type a single line of text? It was a title for a story, nothing more. What mad and foolish pride would let me think that precious line too good to be lost?

My title contained a character's name. I worried that if I left him at the edge of sleep, he would wink out of existence. Perhaps it's something like wondering if I had turned left that day, instead of right, my children would never have been born. I woke in the morning and leaned over my saved document, like patting my pocket for a stone I found.

"Write it down, write it down, write it down," the voice says. It says it at the most inconvenient times:  when I am weighted down with bags and wedged in like a cow in the subway. I obey, even if it means the anger of lost sleep and a scrabbling after linty, sticky pens. Sometimes the pens are wrapped around with stray hairs and their nibs poke holes in my baggie of "emergency almonds"—my purse is a cruel wasteland. But it always contains a pen.

Do we write for adulation? Do we write to see our names on the wall? When I'm gone, there will be more than baggage and tag sale treasures to turn out of my house. I have saved the lives of characters. I have loved words. What else could I have done? I could, instead, step out into the wide world and be nothing, nothing at all. I could close this screen and step away, and I could be happy. I would go to the park. I would speak with people.

But no. We occasionally choose disaster and heartbreak. We invite joy. We want to live all the lives we could have had. We are greedy hoarders, revelers, egomaniacs, bearers of sadness, fools for long and fine moments when even the house seems to tremble and await what we'll bring. We wake in the night.


Kalen O'Donnell said...

So basically, you're saying we're all masochistic crazy people.


Yeah, sounds about right.

No, but in all seriousness, or as much seriousness as you and I are actually capable of - here here! Too true. I constantly find myself walking around scripting scenes in my head, but having nothing handy to write down the dialogue with, and by the time I get to a computer its GONE and I still remember the scene but I whine and pout and sulk because its NOT AS GOOD as my original head dialogue was.


That's us writers.

T.S. Welti said...

I used to hate getting up to write down a line or two. I now keep my phone on my nightstand. I send myself a text or email with the line(s) and go back to tossing and turning.

I don't know where the compulsion comes from. I like to think that, for me, it comes from a long line of artists in my family and from having books shoved down my throat between the ages of four an six. The live of books grew into a love of stories. What better way to experience a story than creating one of your own.

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. :)

Beverly Diehl said...

Dorothy Parker is one of my fantasy dinner party guests. I would seat her next to Oscar Wilde, and let the one-liners fly!

For whatever crazy reason, like that song "I Got The Music In Me," we've got the writing in us. Yes, it's rough when it won't come out right - that's when we hate writing. But then when it has, when some chapter, scene, or even a sentence comes out gloriously... aaah. Love it.

Writing in Flow

Anonymous said...

My writing buddy and I always say "Writing is not for the faint of heart." It's like fishing--up in the dark fumbling for a hook, casting your line regardless of the weather or how you feel, and never knowing if you're going to catch the big one or end up with someone's lost rubber boot full of frog spawn. If you do it for the shiny trophy, the big catch, you're a complete fool. It's a fine and pleasant misery, like the book says, and if you aren't doing it because you love it, because you need it, because you can't quit it, then you are probably wasting your time.

Marewolf said...


And I'm very disappointed that it did. And why am I not a goat herder?!

I keep journals EVERYWHERE for when I have a flash of insight. Sometimes I e-mail myself stuff from work, or jot it on a post-it and toss it in my purse.

I also have a notepad app on my phone that I put story ideas, scene ideas, character traits, etc, etc.

And to answer your question, we write because we must. The words, if not captured on paper, are doomed to die an inglorious death, trapped between synapses and memories of my grandma drinking too many vodka tonics during those hazy summers on Long Island.

And that is all :)

Jenny Phresh said...

Your amazing comments thus far make me feel even more connected to you all as writers and people. Rock on, insomniacs and madmen/women!

Anonymous said...

Jenny, funny 'bout your last comment, cuz I was just getting ready to post how YOU ALL ARE SO AWESOME OMG I feel like I am crazy lucky to "know" you via the internet. SO much smartness (and smarASSness). I am humbled and awed by the company I keep! DUDES.

You are all SO. Smart. and. pretty. (Yes Kalen, you too.)

Kalen O'Donnell said...

Teehee. Greenwoman said I'm pretty.


Mindy McGinnis said...

Great post! I write b/c I can't NOT write. Even if I were to stop, the stories in my head would keep going, so I may as well write the little bastards down.

cherie said...

I'm late to the party, but y'all I've been herding goats so forgive me. I read this earlier, Jen, when I saw your tweet. I thought it was wonderful and very well- said. Poignant as well. I just love you to pieces. When you pump out writing like this, I'm just O_o and then I pat myself on the back for having found you in the blogosphere. (yeah, really narcissistic of me) :D

I'm really glad to have met our little cozy group of crazy goat lovers and pretty twirlers ( that's you, Kalen!). I just feel like i know all of you guys without having even seen any of you in person. (Btw, i totally picture all of you with your little avatar heads, so if I have the fortunate chance of meeting you peeps in person, I'll be like Whoa! You have legs and arms too? LOL)

I thank the day I started blogging. (narcissistic much?) No, seriously, you guys are awesome. And Jenny, you are one of the most talented people I know. Really.

Ok, I'm done with the mushy now because the goats are calling MEHHH, and it's their bedtime.

<3 <3 <3

Christine Murray said...

I love writing, and it's something I have to do. I enjoy it, but it's difficult and involves a lot of rejection. And, as you've pointed out, obsessive craziness.

Bethany C. said...

Writing is frustrating, maddening, drink-inducing nonsense that leaves me feeling like a loser incapable of anything remotely entertaining let alone worthy of being published.

The next day its a beautiful, yodel inducing masterpiece.

Anita said...

I actually aspired at one time to be a submarine mime (more rare and respected than the lowly subway mimes). But alas, I'm a slave to my pen ... er ... keyboard.

Beautifully worded, my talented pony luv. I write because without it, I would cease to be. Period. I'd lose myself in a world of normalcy.

And only a fellow writer could understand that truth.

Anonymous said...

This is SO well stated, Jenny. I loved every line from goat herders to the very end. Why DO we do this to ourselves? I think your answer is perfection.

Sam Southworth said...

Writers are mostly creepy little drips wondering if anyone is noticing that they're saying smart things. But you, O Pony, are THE REAL DEAL, and as such both a comfort and beacon to the afflicted. And I am SO fond of goats! And while singing mighty songs, we can certainly twirl...great post! Have that Sam guy dewormed and put to sleep by a humane vet! Isn't it almost time for you to put down your lap-top and take up your all-conquering Yamaha acoustic guitar for a few weeks of fleeting summer glory??

Sylvia Ney said...

Wonderful post! I'm glad I had the chance to meet you through this blogfest. I'm now following. Happy writing!

MISH said...

Lovely post ~ I think you said it all ! Happy writing !

Christine Tyler said...

The Dorothy Parker quote is exceptional.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Beautifully written. So nice to meet you.

I'm a wake up in the middle of the night with a story in my brain person too.

Sharon said...

Those flashes of creative insight are far too precious to lose. Very well written post! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I hate writing! It is my Kryptonite, my arch nemesis. Put me in a kitchen with a wooden spoon and a hot pot of boiling goo and I'm forever happy. Put me in front of a computer, tell me to write a thought and you might as well string me up by my feet and force me to watch the Brady bunch marathon. Seriously, though I love your creative and haunting posts and am jealous. The End.