does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why Do I Write? - Part 2

Whenever I take my role as Writer/Author too seriously, I recall what Stephen King says in his book On Writing: It's “… just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks.”

Having dethroned the writer as an exalted being, King does not address why some of us choose to be plumbers and others are drawn to, say, writing novels. Of himself, he says only that writing fiction is “… what makes me happy, because it’s what I was made to do.”

Margaret Atwood, in Negotiating with the Dead, dedicates two pages to listing why writers write. The list includes everything from “To record the world as it is …” or to “… produce order out of chaos …” or to “…attract the love of a beautiful woman … man ….” In the end, she concludes that “… any search for a clutch of common motives would prove fruitless ….”

Pablo Neruda in his poem Poet’s Obligation seems to allude to some higher calling. "So, drawn on by my destiny, … through me, freedom and the sea will call in answer to the shrouded heart.”

When asked why I write, I usually respond by saying, I do it because I can’t not write. As described in my post, The Family Business, I seem to be genetically coded for writing.

The tenor of my response changes, though, when I receive a rejection from yet another literary publication or agent. That’s when I scratch my head and wonder why I’m giving so much precious energy to an endeavor that sometimes no one but me sees. At times, I force myself to take a vacation from writing because “I’m not getting anywhere.”

Then I’ll wake up one morning with my fingers itching to get to the keyboard. I will open up a file and soon I will be racing to catch up with whatever is in me that seeks written expression. In the process, I'll feel as fulfilled as I have ever felt about anything.

When that happens, I recall what Stephen King also said when he admonished the writer to find something you are good at and to do it “... until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.”

For me, writing—except when I’m engaged in what seems like the infinity-minus-one draft of a work—is an exceedingly pleasurable experience; indeed, sometimes ecstatic.

My current work-in-progress is a case in point. I now laugh with my characters. I weep with them. As the project progresses, their faces become clearer. I begin to understand their silences, their rages, their hopes, as well as their disappointments. When I reach this point in any fiction project, I know I have to surrender to the process. Stopping feels like a betrayal of my responsibility to these characters.

It may be, then, that I also write to give my characters the expression they would otherwise not have, but for which they hunger, wherever it is they reside when they are not around me. Indeed, once the characters appear in my life, I suffer from a serious case of inquietud, a restlessness that won’t diminish until I give the characters their due.

I’ll end with something else Stephen King said:

“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.

“Drink and be filled up.”


Malcolm R. Campbell said...

Beautiful post, Judith. It resonates with me.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I agree with your genetic coding explanation. Keep writing! (I guess you have no choice since you cannot not write.)

A Cuban In London said...

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant post. What I cannot fathom, however, is why some of the writers you mentioned were not more honest (I'm surprised by Atwood's reply). The difference between the plumber and the writer is the that the latter acquires a recognition that the former will never ever get. Writers, like any other artists, are narcissistic and self-centred by nature, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Sometimes this egotism backfires and the author believes him/herself to be God, but when it works, when the writer does exploit their self-centredness, you oome across literary works that make you cry, or in my case, deter you from doing any more writing because you begin to compare your own work with that masterpiece you have in front of you.

A great post.

Greetings from London.

Judith Mercado said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Sun Singer, Elizabeth Mahlou, and Cuban. Thanks for your encouragement. Cuban, your praise -- well, all I can say is -- muy, muy, muy agradecida.


Stephanie Thornton said...

This is a great post and one with perfect timing. Stephen King is one smart guy.

I recently told someone that I'd spent two years so far writing HATSHEPSUT. They commented that I'd spent longer on this book than it takes to create a human and give birth. I kind of feel like that's what I've done. Only with an elephant's gestation. :)

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Judith I can add nothing to this post except to say you've exactly nailed how I feel about writing. I do NOT know why I carry on writing rejection ater rejection. All I do know is that when I'm not involved in a book (either research, wwriting or eiting) I'm in a bad mood, I'm depressed, lack energy etc. Being unable to write is even worse than being deprived of chocolate! :)

Great post!

(Win one of five unique prizes from South Africa in the Christmas Contest on my blog)

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Sorry - the spelling gremlin is really having a good day today! Far to many spelling errors in my posts. Wish Blogger allowed editing!

(Win one of five unique prizes from South Africa in the Christmas Contest on my blog)

Judith Mercado said...

Stephanie and Ann, I don't remember now what specifically triggered my wanting to write this post since I schedule my posts in advance. It is probable that I, too, had wondered why I kept on writing and/or reflected on how much time it took. Those sentiments are certainly reflected in the post. Thank you both for sharing this writing journey. Companions like you make it an enjoyable one.