I know this isn’t the usual format for the Lamentations, but I love the concept behind this project. Please take a moment to enjoy a bit of writing from outside the Way of the Instructor!
I was honored when Lee Gaitan (leegaitan.com) messaged me a couple of weeks ago and asked me to participate in this project. I met Lee online through a mutual friend on Facebook. I thought she was remarkable and funny. She has now written two books and does speaking engagements to encourage women through their struggles. This project came up through an online writing group she’s a part of called 48days.net. Her positive attitude and strength inspire me as a person and a writer.
It’s sort of funny that this question, “Why do you write?” came up when it did. I’d just read “Shed That Skin,” a graduation speech given by Amber Tamblyn at Chapman University in June of this year. She speaks candidly about her life and about a moment when she was asked “Why did you make the choice to get into acting?” and couldn’t answer the question. She wasn’t even sure she’d ever chosen because she’d been doing it for so long and from such a young age. When I think about why I write, my mind goes back to eleven-year-old me. I wrote a ridiculous, but age-appropriate, story about a bionic chicken. My teacher loved it, and I felt validated, really validated. A light inside of me lit for the first time. I wasn’t just playing pretend anymore. I was playing pretend and getting praised for doing so. By the next year, I was heavily into sci-fi and fantasy and a touch of horror (Poe led the way), and I discovered Frederik Pohl and thought I could write a story like one he’d written. It was good enough to go into the school literary magazine. It was the first time I figured out that I was good at something and that being good at that something got me positive attention. It was then I made the choice, I think. At age twelve, I’m not sure anyone knows what they are getting into when they choose something that they plan to carry with them the rest of their lives, but I do believe that writing was an inevitability for me.
But this still doesn’t explain why I write.
I have always been surrounded by words and stories. They are woven into the fabric of my being. This part of me is intrinsic to every part of my life. It influences how I speak to my students. It tempers my gaming (yes, I am a table-top gamer). I have friends who got into gaming because they love structure and rules. I got into gaming because I love characters and stories and relationships. I write because that’s how I experience the world around me. I often tell my students that they are swimming in a sea of language and ideas and that they must open their eyes and souls to these things if they want to write well. For freshman composition students, this is pretty metaphysical. For me, it’s truth. I write, in part, because I can’t close my eyes to the words and stories that are around me all the time. When I try to close my eyes to them, I ache and the world loses all its color for me. Writing allows me to experience living with the constant understanding that everyone and every experience is an open opportunity for storytelling.
When I write, I feel like I’m channeling a sort of wild energy that I’ve leashed for just a little while. While this doesn’t happen every time I write, it happens enough that I crave the feeling and want to write to feel it again. I write because it is intoxicating and, as difficult as it can be sometimes, it is the action that makes me the happiest. That wild energy I’ve mentioned contains joy and beauty. It contains the closest thing I’ve ever found to true magic in the world. With this energy I can build worlds, birth characters, and allow those characters to have lives that are not controlled by me, but rather unleashed for them to find what it is that they need to find with each other or themselves. This is why I have some trouble with writing with an outline. People don’t live on an outline. Neither do characters. I tell younger writer friends often that the goal isn’t to be in control of the story. The goal is to be open enough to let the story and characters control the story. They will take you where you need to go. All you do is record their lives. You aren’t a god. I write about these people in my brain because their stories are worth sharing. I write because I value who these people are and want others to know them, and writing is the only way they will be heard or seen or loved.
When I first started thinking that I would write seriously (or as seriously as one can when one is twelve), I admit that I wanted to write for fame and fortune. It is easy to think that you can do that, especially when you see that your favorite authors are the ones making money and getting interviews or invites to conferences and special things like that. When I wrote in middle school, I got positive attention, which was kind of rare at that point in my life. I spent a lot of time feeling like a bit of an oddity. As I look back on that time, a lot of that feeling was probably self-generated, and maybe not quite as real as I imagined at the time. Still, I was picked on some during that time, and writing gave me some insulation. Some kids are the class clowns. I was the class writer and sarcasm engine. What couldn’t be deflected by my innate sarcasm, could be absorbed by my writing. I became known as a writer, and that made me think that I could be famous and make money at writing. What I learned as I became an adult is that is not exactly the case. I had to turn from this idea, not because I cannot gain those things, but because fame and fortune isn’t a real reason to write. Still, I think that I, like most artists, write because I do crave attention. I have talked to writers who say that they don’t want attention. I call that a lie. I write, I blog, I post on Twitter and Facebook because…I like the attention. I enjoy that moment when someone reads one of my stories and then gets a shocked look on their face. I love getting messages telling me that something I created moved someone or made them afraid or made them laugh loudly. When I write, I bare myself to everyone who will dare to read with the intention of making him or her feel something, and maybe tell me that I’m awesome. Is that narcissistic? I don’t think so. Okay, maybe a little. Writing makes me feel special. It takes my perceived oddity and turns it into something that isn’t so odd but is instead beautiful.
I write because it is who I am. I know a lot of writers, and we all end up settling here at some point. I’ve tried being other things, and I do have other roles. I’m a mom and a teacher and a gamer and all of these things are part of my being as well. No matter who I am at any given moment, however, at the center of my being is that writer. She’s the one who provides constant commentary on the world around me. She’s the one who wakes me up at 0-dark-thirty to tell me what she just learned from one of my characters while they sat up drinking all night. She’s the one who looks back on the mad broken parts of my life and tells me that they will make great story and character fuel one day. Without the writer, I’m lost. I become less than I can be. I lose my own color and walk around in gray. Why do I write? Because without the writing, I am not me.
Part of the “Why I Write” project is to ask other writers to answer the same question on their blogs. I am blessed to know many writers, but knowing so many made it difficult to choose just three. The three I chose are all accomplished writers whose passion and generosity in their writing communities make me especially proud to know them. I have seen these people encourage me and others who are starting to write themselves. I am honored to introduce:
Bill Blume discovered his love for the written word while in high school and has been writing ever since. His debut novel, Gidion’s Hunt, was published last year by Fable Press. His short stories have been in many fantasy anthologies and various ezines. Just like the father figure in his first novel, Bill works as a 911 dispatcher for Henrico County Police and has done so for more than a decade. He served as the 2013 chair for James River Writers in Richmond, which produces one of the nation’s best annual conferences for educating and connecting writers. You can learn more about Bill and his stories at his website www.billblume.net
and his blog http://billblume.wordpress.com/
Bryan Thompson is a graphic designer and actor who has been writing for well over a decade. His creation and performance of IK, King of the Trolls has been the central focus of the majority of his writings, in that as IK he tells stories, and thusly has created an entire mythology that borders on encyclopedic in scope. Nonetheless, he has written essays, short stories, poems, and even recipes to share with anyone willing to read them.
His writing influences include Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and also H.P. Lovecraft.
Various written materials can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/IKtheTroll/notes
Kimberly Carol is a blogger who started kimberlycarol.com in December 2012 to write a daily inspiration piece as Life Lessons, and to post information for those who, like herself, have Celiac Disease. Her blog also includes a section that follows her current book project, The Barefoot House, which is an autobiographipcal work of creative non-fiction now in its final rewrite. Kimberly is a former music minister turned writer, who started as an English major at Oglethorpe University and then studied painting at Valdosta State. The author currently lives in Atlanta, GA.