Why I Write? I Don’t Know. I Just Feel Better When I Do.
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Writing doesn’t come naturally to me, but imagining does. I was that kid in school who would stare out the window in class and mentally be a million miles away, seeing stories unfold, made-up characters come to life, and adventures unspool.
But I never thought of myself as a writer. That was for some rarefied person who had the stamina and intellect to transform a glimpse of a character or a wisp of an outline into a three-dimensional human being in full focus. Think Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. These protagonists practically jump off the page, pull up a chair next to you, and speak to you. The writers understood who these characters were.
So, how do I write when the work of writers like Margaret Mitchell, Suzanne Collins, and F. Scott Fitzgerald exists in the world? I’m a mediocre speller, have terrible handwriting, and told myself for years I couldn’t even imagine building a world and letting characters loose into that world to do things that a reader might be interested in. But the nagging desire never stopped. I longed to write a story.
I would start a story, get all tangled in the ropes of poorly drawn characters and meandering plots, and eventually walk away from the story as if it were a gruesome crime scene. But one story kept nagging at me. Because the main character, Julia Longley, was a woman I could really see. Julia Longley was a person I knew. She wasn’t me, but she had aspects of me, and aspects that were uniquely hers. So, I took a long hard look at my writing and decided to do something about it. I decided that if I couldn’t just magically be a writer, maybe I could learn how to write.
I bought books on writing craft, went to writing seminars, formed writing critique groups, and through all the twists and turns, I began to shape a manuscript. Five pages became 25, then 200, and eventually 400. Then (as the saying goes: writing is re-writing) I dove into the manuscript again (although I only called it “my project”) and hired an editor, a steadying guide who helped me prune and augment, sometimes amputate, all to make the story stronger.
Seven years after my decision to write this story and not give up, the FedEx guy delivered a heavy box containing copies of my book, The Headshrinker’s Brigade.
Pulling that top copy from the stack and feeling the tangible heft of the pages became my proof that I could go from a dreamer to a wanna-be to a writer to an author. The feeling was second only to the birth of my daughter. It was so damn cool.
However, it’s not the end of the story, because I have other stories to write. So I begin the process again, but with a twist: Can I do it again? The first book took forever, and maybe that’s the only book I have in me? I see a character, but she’s a fuzzy outline – can I bring her to life? The cosmic joke is that while doubt may never end, our desire to tolerate doubt while moving into the unknown gives us a charge of electricity. And doesn’t bravery help make our lives more worth living?