WHY I WRITE
My childhood had a powerful influence on why I write. I was born in the city but grew up in the country. And there in the country I discovered that words could take me beyond what I knew with my eyes and my ears. It began on a hike in the woods with my father. We had stopped to watch some bees buzzing around wild flowers along the trail. I knew the bees were gathering honey but wondered if there was something else going on. When we got home, my curiosity led me to a library where I discovered it wasn't a one-way affair. Those flowers were gathering pollen from the bees. But watching bees buzzing from flower to flower wasn't enough. I needed words to transform my observations into meanings. Bees do things to flowers. Flowers do things to bees. Words do things to me. And that makes me love them.
My love of words was born in those woods, and grew up in libraries where words were always windows and sometimes even doors to adventure, mystery, and self-discovery. Words stimulate my curiosity, my thinking and my imagination. Now, with the years piled up like pages in a book, most of my reading takes place on my Kindle. But I still go to my local library to stay in touch with the feel of a printed page, the smell of a printed book, and the look of words on paper.
Most of all, I go to be in a library, to feel that electric awareness that here in this quiet place are zillions of things waiting to be discovered, waiting to feed my curiosity. To benefit from the men and women who put their thoughts and feelings into words in a book. Some of them have been dead for thousands of years. Some published their book when the Egyptians were building pyramids. Some when the Greeks were discovering science and art. Some in the Dark Ages when mankind turned away from science and art. Some during the Renaissance when men and women returned to the arts and science. Some put their thoughts and feelings into a book just a year or so ago.
Doesn't matter where or when. Those writers are still alive in the words they wrote. In a library, I am a space-time traveler being carried to once upon a time in a land far away by the author's imagination. Even if it's fiction, I gain insights on politics, religion, history, philosophy, art, science—anything and everything that has occupied the heads, hearts and hands of men and women throughout the ages.
Reading the words that other people wrote motivated me to write my own words. Now, with the years piled on top of each other like pages in a book, I'm more aware of why I write and why it matters. You may not identify strongly with any of my reasons but they might start you thinking about yours because knowing why you write will make you be a better writer.
To Understand Myself and the World
Every clear sentence I write clears more of the under growth of confusion in my mind. Writing is just speaking on paper or typing on a keyboard. What's magical about it is that I don't know what I think or feel until I see what I'm saying.
We've been told that a picture is worth a thousand words. My last visit to an art gallery, however, made me doubt the artist had any words in mind when he placed his brush on the canvas. Some of the paintings looked as if the artist had tossed the canvas on the floor of his studio, then thrown paint into a fan.
I have, of course, seen photographs and paintings worth at least a thousand words. Norman Rockwell, Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams and others. But I'm drawn to words more strongly than to photographs or paintings. My bias is that pictures can only show, whereas words can show and tell. When I see an eye-catching painting or photograph, my first thought is to ask myself how I could express what I'm seeing with words.
To Earn a Living
Writing played a crucial role in my career. My job required me to write reports and instructional manuals so other men and women could do their jobs. Good writing reflects good thinking, and my employers noticed.
They also noticed, as did the people I was writing for, that I was paying close attention to my target audience. If you are designing an upscale restaurant, for example, the building, the landscaping and the entrance, when viewed from the street, should not appeal to people who are wearing raggedy jeans and baseball caps turned backwards on their heads. Your restaurant is a space to dine, not a place to eat.
To Express My Creativity
Writing brings my imagination out to play with prose and poetry. Play? Yes, creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Play first, then work with the results so what you publish is art. And what is art if it isn't transforming thoughts into things—something real that evolved by entertaining dreams and making up stories.
Some people think stories aren't true because fiction is inferior to fact. Yeah, stories are made up, so fiction can be just an entertaining way to escape reality. We live in a world with problems that are often beyond our ability to solve. So it can be reassuring to read a story with problems we know will be solved by the hero in the end.
But people who write books, compose poems, make movies and sing songs seed their imagination with what they see and hear in the real world. So fiction can also be a powerful way to change reality.
In other words, storytellers use fiction to tell the truth, and that empowers you and me to find something true about ourselves. We live in a world that makes us too busy to look back and see our own lives as stories, too busy to connect the dots of cause and effect and paint our own story with a plot and a point.
Stories give us that look back. We become the young hero, the wise old woman, the transformed fool. The story becomes more true than if it had really happened, and that makes fiction psychologically valid, emotionally realistic and loaded with clues for shaping and navigating the sticky web of real life.
To Connect Yesterday and Tomorrow
Without reflection, the history of our lives is just a string of incidents connected by the passage of time. Like salmon swimming upstream, we get so immersed in the business and busyness of life we don't see how the circumstances we encountered and the choices we made became a story with a plot and a point. So I transform memories into memoirs to unlock the door to yesterday. And every sentence I write moves me closer to things that mattered in the past and will, therefore, matter in the future.
To Entertain, Inform and Inspire
Writing plays a crucial role in how we share knowledge with others and communicate our thoughts and feelings. I get more pleasure from writing when I know that somebody is reading what I've written.
So I share my creativity, my knowledge and my experience with others by publishing my writing with e-book distributors and on-line magazines. You'll read more about this when I ask you below why you write.
To Enjoy the Process
I love the process of brainstorming an idea, then researching, writing, editing and polishing it to create a clear, concise, finely-tuned work of art. And whether I do or do not find an audience for what I've written, I "publish" it in my Things that Matter scrapbook. Why? Because that makes it more tangible, more present and less forgotten.
Forgotten? Yes. Having something I've written published out there in the world is as temporary as the issue of the magazine in which it appeared. And then it's buried in the back issues.
I'm not trying to be negative, just realistic about the difficulty of finding an editor who thinks that what I've written has some entertaining, informative or inspirational value for the publication's readers. Even if the editor does, and publishes it, I won't know how it's received or what effect it had on those who read it.
To Save My Self for Posterity
My Things that Matter scrapbook is a kind of three-ring cedar chest of pictures, prose and poetry, musings, memoirs and memories. As I mentioned above, "publishing" my thoughts and experiences in my scrapbook softens the transitory nature of publishing my writing in a magazine and the wait-and-see nature of publishing my writing with a distributor.
My scrapbook also makes it less likely my children and their children will forget me five days after I'm dead. Like Orwell, and perhaps you too, my self interest hopes I will be talked about and remembered after death.
Except for astronauts, nobody gets off this planet alive, and everyone is forgotten—some sooner than others. So even though I'd prefer immortality by not dying, and hope my scrapbook will delay their forgetfulness of me, I embrace the inevitability that it too will be placed on a shelf and forgotten. That's OK with me.
Why Do You Write?
If one of the reasons you write is to publish what you've written, keep in mind that you can be 100 percent successful with e-book distributors—just write and upload. With editors, it's more like 10 percent—submit and wait.
Either way, it's a quality-versus-quantity project. The vast number of books on a distributor's website means the chances of anyone finding yours are about as good as finding a needle in a haystack. Amazon, for example, is a giant haystack.
If someone does find your book, its quality had better be competitive with other books like yours. Ditto for editors. Most are swamped with submissions. If yours isn't one of shiniest needles in the stack, the editor will move it from his inbox to his round file.
Self-publishing is also a writing-versus-marketing project. Writing takes 10 percent of my time and marketing about 90 percent of my time. Your mileage may vary, of course. Just keep in mind that trying to find a wider audience for your writing involves marketing and promotion—selling yourself and selling your writing.