Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write

Inspired by the question posed by the National Day on Writing

I write because I don’t know what I think until I’ve put it into words, and sometimes there’s no one around to say it to.

I write for the same reason that I need long walks and home cooked meals—my body needs it, so does my soul.

I write because it gets me out of my brain and into my body.

I write because I overhear conversations on the street or listen to anecdotes my friends tell me and my first response is “Wouldn’t that make a good story?”

I write because I can’t take photographs.

I write because I can’t tell lies.

I write because I am really bad at thinking on the fly. In writing I have time to come up with the perfect rebuttal, hours after the argument is over (the argument in which I said nothing, just stood and opened and closed my mouth like a fish).

I write because metaphors are miraculous. In that last sentence I added a fish even though, as far as we know, fish can’t argue.

I write because I love em dashes and colons and rolling repetitive rhythms. Oh, and alliteration.

I write because I think better with a pen in my hand.

I write to retell the good old stories. You know the ones I’m talking about— coming of age tales, heroic quests, love stories, testimonies of faith, death and rebirth. They may have been told thousands of times already across human history, but they are so big—so true—that they don’t fit into one retelling, or even a hundred retellings. There is still room for me in these old stories.

I write because telling stories, naming the world, is what makes us human.

I write because despite our best efforts, this is still a sexist, racist, unequal and indifferent world. And maybe if I can tell a story about one moment, real or imagined, where people manage to break free of that for a moment and live in compassion—maybe that changes things.

I write because placing myself in a character’s shoes reminds me that everyone in my life has a backstory I may not know.

I write to discover things I don’t know until I see them on the page.

I write to remember.


 *     *    *

Why I am a Writer, or why I call myself a Writer, is a different question than why I write. I used to write because I liked to read. Nerdy dreamy girls in books—Emily of New Moon, Vicky Austin, Harriet the Spy—ended up writers. And so did the women and men whose pictures I saw on the back jacket flap. I used to write because I loved stories and I hadn’t yet learned to fear what people thought of them.

Why do I still call myself a writer? I’m not sure. Today I’m more of an editor and occasional blogger. But I still introduce myself with that loaded word.

At a craft talk once a writer said—I can’t remember who—that real writers love sentences. I thought when I heard that, I do love sentences—the millions of ways they can look and sound. So maybe I am a real writer.

I also love to revise—to carefully dissect each sentence and stitch it back together to see if each phrase and word and consonant is saying what I wanted it to say. Many people say this is one of the worst parts of the writing process. So maybe if I love the hard things, I am a real writer.

I am a writer because I named myself a writer, almost six years ago, and I’ve been trying to live into that call ever since.

I write because I am a writer, and I don’t know what that means, but this is the only way I know to find out.