A Question of Why

“Why do I write?”

That’s a great question, especially since I’ve already been focusing so much on self-doubts when it comes to expressing myself with the written word.

When most people think of being a writer, they picture one of two extremes. At one end, there are the James Pattersons and Danielle Steeles, writers who are ultra-famous and wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. The J.K. Rowlings and Nora Robertses of the world. Successful, well-known, respected writers.

And at the other end, there is the stereotypical artiste. The artsy-fart who wears black and chain-smokes European cigarettes while drinking too much and moaning about pouring his soul onto the page for an audience who can’t yet comprehend his brilliance. He is the starving artist who would never dream of “selling out” or betraying his artistic soul by allowing his work to be chewed up and spit out by the unwashed masses who just aren’t ready for him.

The truth is, I think most writers are just like me. Normal, ordinary people who like to tell stories and just hope that a handful of people out there want to read what we write.

Why do I write?

I like to entertain people. I like to make you laugh. I like to spin a tale that catches your attention and pulls you in, that makes you forget to blink and then breathlessly ask, “and then? What happens next?”

I like talking. Telling stories. I get a kick out of taking everyday occurrences and looking at them upside-down and sideways to find a story to tell. I like to look at the world around me and ask “what if?”

What if those old people over there were actually long-lost lovers?

What if that handsome man over there is actually a killer on the run?

What if (insert random situation) had ended differently?

What if . . . what if . . . what if . . 

Try it sometime. It’s fun.

People have always told me that I should write a book. Okay, I think a lot of those people were probably just trying to find a polite way of telling me to shut up, but I can still find encouragement in their words.

Why do I write?

I write because it gives me pleasure.

Some folks get really dramatic and talk about “bleeding on the keys” or writing because they must. Oh, there are plenty of powerful memes and inspirational posters about having a story within that must find its way out.

Yeah, okay, all that shit’s pretty cool.

But writing — real writing — isn’t just about those bursts of inspiration and manic late-night sessions at the keyboard when the ideas and words are flowing like streams of uncontrollable vomit. It’s not just about waking up with a gasp at 3:28 in the morning because a sudden idea has hit right now and hit HARD and you’ve got to jot it down NOW before it is gone forever.  It’s not just about those days when you zone out in the middle of a crowd because there’s a scene from your newest story playing out in your mind like a movie and you’ve got to watch it so you don’t forget.

Writing can be all of that. And when those things are happening, the best thing you can do is grab the safety rails and hang on for the ride of your life.

But most of the time, writing is hard work. It’s getting up before dawn to scratch out a few words before the day starts. It’s taking classes and studying the greats and attending workshops. It’s reading books and honing your skills. It’s practicing, practicing, and practicing some more. It’s starting out with a tiny germ of something and doing your damnedest to turn it into something better.

It’s about writing when you’d rather watch TV or play on Facebook. It’s about editing and re-writing and editing some more. It’s about accepting that you are not perfect. It’s about swallowing your pride and learning from experience when someone is brave enough to tell you that what you’ve written really isn’t very good. It’s about being willing to “kill your darlings” if that’s what it takes to create a better story.

[Note: if you don’t know what it means to “kill your darlings” please don’t worry about my children at this point. Trust me, it’s a Faulkner thing.]

It’s about knowing when to listen to a critic and when to trust your own judgement and maybe, if you’re smart and very very lucky, ending up at that perfect place between the two.

Why do I write?

Sometimes, I read back over something I’ve written, and I cringe. Yikes, did I actually write that self-important bit of crap called “Had I But Time” back in the ’80’s, complete with a nod to Shakespeare in the title? Worse, did I really send that out to publishers? Oh, dear Lord, may the universe forgive me . . .

But just as I’m ready to haul my mortified self under the kitchen table to hide in utter embarrassment, I’ll read over something else I’ve written, and I think, “Hey, that’s not bad.” Of course, that thought is often followed rather quickly by, “It’s not exactly good, either.”

What can I say? Self-confidence is not one of my greatest strengths.

Why do I write?

I can’t give you one easy answer because there is no easy answer. I write because . . . I’m a writer. It’s not what I do; it’s what I am.

I may never make a living as a writer. I’m fairly sure I’ll never be among the ranks of the super-rich and mega-famous, although I would  be totally okay with being either one. Just saying.  But in the meantime, I’m totally okay with being exactly where I am as long as I am writing.

Why do I write?

Because I love it.

This has been part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog hop, with the prompt “Why do I write?”  Your host is Kristi from Finding Ninee, so please check out her blog and some of the other fabulous writers who participate in this weekly writing exercise. 

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “A Question of Why

  1. “It’s what I am.” I love that and it’s really so true. So glad you write and that I know you and that you linked up. I especially liked the 3am thing – because it’s SO spot-on. The few times I don’t get up, sure that I’ll remember in the morning, I don’t remember in the morning. I still try to get those ideas back.

    PS I just pre-ordered your new book. I LOVE the title.

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  2. I’m just like you. Normal person who writes because.. I love it. In high school, there WERE a lot of the artsy fartsy types and I did think I wasn’t a real writer the way they were.
    Boy I’m glad I know the truth. We’re all as real as we want to be.

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  3. I feel exactly the same way! I don’t NEED to write, but I like it. This is such an honest, refreshing piece, A.J. – I’m going to have to read it again when I get in a writing slump. Thank you!

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  4. Ahhh and there is where you (ye) the writers who are achieving success, have the edge. The commitment, the effort, the determination to hone and edit and read the greats and attend workshops and put new ideas into practice.

    I read a meme recently, which held the (paraphrased) legend “Don’t get pissed about the things which didn’t happen because you didn’t put anything out there to MAKE them happen”

    I often wonder if I’m too lazy to be a writer. Too lackadaisical.

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    • I don’t know how much success I’ve achieved, Lizzi, and I’m not always as committed as I should be. Sometimes, the editing and reading and workshops aren’t as much a part of the process as they are an excuse to procrastinate. Most nights, it’s much easier to sit down with a writing book by Chris Fox or Libbie Hawker than to actually dive into my own manuscript.

      I don’t think you’re too lazy to be a writer! I love your blog. I think it’s all about the timing thing –AsTamaralikecamera says in her blog today, when the time is right, it will come naturally (now I’m the one paraphrasing). Trust me, she says it way better than I paraphrased it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Following the spark, keeping an eye on which bit of what passion is twinkling at that moment, and blowing on the embers to make them catch light…that’s what I’m trying to do and not stress about the places which aren’t bursting into any kind of flame!

        I am hesitant of ‘should’s because they sound so much like obligations, or ‘less-than-if-I-didn’t’s, but the only instructional books I’ve read have been about language, rather than writing specifically. And I’m totally with you on the ‘easier option’, though mine tends to be frittering away time on Facebook, or reading fiction (which arguably provides a solid ground for writing, so…)

        I get the impression from Kristi that there’s LOTS to learn at writing retreats – perhaps some are excuses, but I think many have real value.

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      • Oh, I’d love to go on a writing retreat sometime! I think the Retreat From Harsh Reality is coming up in a week or so just a few miles from me, but it’s just not in the budget. I tell myself every year that NEXT year will be the year I go . . . maybe this time it really will be next year.

        Funny thing — I just got a Tarot reading earlier today, and she said I’m at a point where I have a big choice coming up soon, and it involves something I feel passionate about. Not in a romantic way (pfft, of course not) but pertaining to something in my life about which I feel passionate.

        Hmmm … wondering if that’s the “spark” we’re all talking about today?

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  5. “It’s not just about those days when you zone out in the middle of a crowd because there’s a scene from your newest story playing out in your mind like a movie and you’ve got to watch it so you don’t forget.”

    Only a writer gets this…and the moments when you walk around in a daze because even though you walked away from your computer you haven’t truly let go of your characters.

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  6. I’m definitely part of the camp that doesn’t NEED to write, but I do LOVE to write. Honestly ( and I think I covered this in my own post ) there are days I need to NOT write. I hope that makes sense.
    I have been thinking about a retreat lately, but it’s a question of timing, funding, and location. Truly, I am not one to get on a plane and head across the country. But one within short driving distance? I just might do it one day soon…
    Love your post.

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  7. Exactly. Even when we kill are darlings. Even when we sit up at night and consider our words as drek. Even when we think, why?

    Exactly, that. We need to tell stories so we don’t carry them around with us.

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