Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why I write ...

I recently sat down to think about why it is, exactly, that I write. The way I figure it, if I didn't feel compelled to write, and spend anywhere from ten minutes a day to ten hours a day (no kidding, yeah, I've done that ... .) I'd have more time in my day. To clean house. To watch The West Wing with my politically-oriented son. To make my husband a homemade pie. You get the picture. I've had dry periods, where no writing came forth, but then I got cranky and had to pick up a pen to right/write my way out of the funk.
Why is it, exactly, that I write?
This is what I've come up with: I can't seem to NOT write. (So what I've split an infinitive.)
I started writing even before I knew how to write. What was I ... three or four years old? I distinctly remember "writing" stories under Mom's scalloped-trimmed coffee table ... using a skinny felt-tipped marker, or one of Mom's fountain pens. (She always called them "fountain pens," which to this day makes me feel tender about her.)
In second grade I wrote a story about a dog with a 100-foot tail. Won the teacher's seal of approval. My mom saved the story for years, and then it just up and disappeared. I'd really like to see it again. I remember the illustrations, but the words are out of my head.
In seventh grade I joined the school newspaper. Wrote a "Dear Somebody" column, offering advice. "My boyfriend skated with another girl. What do I do?" sort of stuff.
In tenth grade I was named Features Editor of my high school newspaper, which meant something because The Criterion won numerous state awards. Senior year? I was Editor in Chief. I wore business suits to school, high-heeled pumps. Aspired to be the next Jessica Savitch.
In college, I got distracted (Read: pregnant) and then, because I was a mother, left journalism to pursue a career I thought would be family friendly: teaching!
Taught high school English for five years, got burned out, left the field. While teaching, I dabbled in poetry and playwrighting. Wrote, produced and directed a two-act comedy, Trail Mix. Aspired to be the female Neil Simon.
Too much month at the end of the money. Had to get a job. A local newspaper was hiring a receptionist/typist (this dates me, doesn't it?). I typed up press releases and obituaries. Got brave one day and asked the editor if I could write a story. He said yes. Pretty soon I was writing more and more.
Missed teaching. Went back. Went for one year only.
Missed writing for publication. Got hired at a different newspaper. Did obits, press releases, feature stories, covered three local school districts. The paper hired a new managing editor: he gave me a column. Tales from the (mother)hood was born. It ran weekly, was my pride and joy.
Feeling civic duty, I ran for a school board seat and was elected. Could no longer work for the local paper. Missed teaching. Went back to it.
Two years in, I missed writing. Put myself on a deadline to write a novel, the summer of 2006. Wrote from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week; took an hour for lunch and to stretch out my neck and shoulders. Ever typed nine hours a day? I lost 28 pounds that summer and by the time mid-August rolled around I'd done it: written a 130,000 word literary novel called The Hour of Lead. Solicited two agents. Struck down twice. School started. Teaching sucks my energy; I quit marketing my book.
Winter of 2006-07, my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. I took six weeks off from school to take care of him while my mom was doing her own dying in a local hospital.
He died in front of me on a muggy, rainy Saturday night. June 30, 2007.
I didn't write for nine months. A pregnancy of drought.
And I missed it.
So I started this blog.
Why is it you write, dear reader?


Bee said...

How tall is your youngest daughter? Wow! Where did that come from? My oldest daughter looks to be settling around the 5"2 mark. The short genes kicked in for her.

But on to the topic at hand: Writing. I don't know why I write, really. It's damn hard work at times, and sometimes I dread getting started (although it's never so bad when you actually do get started), but I just love playing with words. Also, as more than one wise person has said, it helps me to figure out what I am thinking and feeling.

I'm blown away by your summer of writing. You have awesome discipline, KS. Will you ever try to market that book again?

Kate said...

Yes, I plan to get the manuscript moving ... I just re-read it a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the read. However, I do need to do some rewriting in parts and change the ending.
Elizabeth is about 5'10", her dad close to 6'1".
Thanks for responding to my "Why do you write?" prompt!

prashant said...

. I don't know why I write, really. It's damn hard work at times, and sometimes I dread getting started

Work from home India

kanishk said...

it's never so bad when you actually do get started), but I just love playing with words.

Wagyu Steak

Antoinette Datoc said...

I write because I can't stop. My husband tells me to slow down. I'll run out of things to say, but I can't stop. If I don't write. my thoughts will be lost forever. Some of my most interesting, compelling, entertaining thoughts are fleeting and I'd hate to lose them forever.

Can I read your manuscript?

Jo Annette said...

I've been enjoying your blog, Kathleen. I write because it helps me know myself and what I think. It used to be that I didn't know what I thought until I heard it come out of my mouth. Unfortunately, sometimes that's not the best timing to figuring it out . . . open mouth, insert foot. Writing (in my journal anyway) is a much safer way to take my thoughts out of my head, lay them out on the table, rearrange them if need be and decide what it all means -- most often it doesn't really mean anything. I write because I struggle sometimes to articulate my thoughts in a coherent way when I speak. I write because words are my medium. I don't draw or paint or sculpt or cook or shoot photos. I don't even really think in pictures. I think in words. I write because it's the only place I can truly be myself. Sadly, that fact is the obstacle that has kept me from any attempts at more "commercial" endeavors. I am afraid that if I write openly and honestly for a public audience I will alienate those closest to me or those who I wish were close to me. I'm hoping to break free of that and answer what I think may be a true calling. Keep up the good work. It's funny, it's clear I am much better acquainted with you here in the digital age than I ever was when we saw each other in person. Keep up the good work.