Saturday, September 26, 2009

Keeping the Voices at Bay, or Why I Write

When I was a kid, I used to imagine what life would be like as a writer. Inspiration would hit like a ton of bricks, and I'd find myself in the corner of a tiny cafe, writing so fast my pen would burn the paper. Once finished, I would have a brilliantly penned piece of literature that would receive accolades and become something that future generations of people would read long after I'm gone.

Sounds easy, right?

The concept of the writing process didn't truly hit me until I began teaching it. Writing is so much more than slapping words on a page: it is the means of communication through the ages. Artists such as Shakespeare and Milton, Benjamin Franklin and Emerson, still speak to us because of this incredible gift. Words have power; thus the written word can move mountains.

The image of the 18th and 19th century Romantics - scribbling words on a page, filled with inspiration from Nature and God, publishing their fresh and perfect verse to energize and affect readers - amuses me, simply because despite their claims that true writing comes from the spirit, they labored for days, weeks, sometimes months to make a piece of prose sing.

And yet, I agree with them. Ultimately, writing starts with the soul. Why do I write? What moves me? Do I have something to say? Should I create a made-up world because I think it could enhance the real one? Why wouldn't I? is the better question.

However, let's be realistic here: writing is much more than spirit. There is a deeper side to writing which most readers don't see. Not until I began writing original fiction did I understand that writing is messy, scary, and at times traumatic. Bringing a new world to life - infusing it with believable characters and plot, a love story and conflict - is the most frightening, vulnerable thing I have ever done. Ask some of my friends and they'll tell you that I hide from my characters much of the time, for fear that I will either screw them up beyond recognition...or make them so incredible that I find my writing Voice and move closer to the real fact of being published.

So I return to my original question: why do I write? Because I must - because I would rather die than never tell the stories that keep me up at night, push me to compose words on a computer screen or on paper; or the characters who make me laugh, cry, scream, shout, and every other emotion under the sun.

The image of the inspired writer writing her novel in a notebook has never disappeared, but now I know the truth. Behind the words is the truth about one's self: the vulnerability, the side never seen in the writing process because no one ever speaks of it.

And that's okay. It's a part each writer must discover for herself.

Reading and weeping opens the door to one's heart, but writing and weeping opens the window to one's soul.
- M. K. Simmons


Andrea said...

Great post! You've nailed it, really.