Thanks to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), today is recognized as the National Day on Writing. Writers, teachers, students – everyone is invited to share their responses to the hashtag on social media – #WhyIWrite. Join in!!
What a perfect day to share one of my essays from grad school, “Why I Write”:
I write to explore. It’s how I process everything and, as best as I can, everyone around me. I’ve been keeping a journal since elementary school. In high school, I wrote a lot in verse, and in college I began writing short stories. I found that last medium to be the best way for me to get out of myself and dissect life through characters taking up time in my own head.
One of my favorite quotes comes from E.L. Doctorow, one of the authors in this week’s readings and the author of Ragtime: “Writing is an acceptable form of schizophrenia”. Those words are framed on my wall reminding me that it’s okay to hear the different stories, people, plots, lives, dialogue, and et cetera, all circumnavigating and nesting in my head. With all due respect to those affected by the illness, it’s a phrase that defines why I write. To explore those voices keeping me wide-eyed and in a fog-like state to those around me, to discover who they are, to learn from their lives and in some way become more enlightened about my own life makes me pour out all I can. It is a freeing element from my own existence. As my fellow alumna, Annie Dillard said, “It is life at its most free.” (Dillard 11) I cannot let time pass for too long without engaging with words that must be written, otherwise I’ll feel as if I’m on the verge of going mad.
It is a freeing element from my own existence.
Recently I looked over some old ideas and blurbs for stories. I was amazed. I remembered writing them and at the same time, I didn’t. They impressed me so much, I cursed myself for not pursuing them when I’d drafted them. They were little paragraphs. Minute moments of thought. Worlds to enter, people to meet, stories to watch unfold. More than likely, lessons to learn. I realized how Dillard’s reference to Thoreau’s passage about the middle-aged man building a wood-shed with his gathered materials as a youth applied to my writing those vignettes. (5). After the dreaming, planning, and collecting of my words, regardless of quantity, I have always have something to work with at anytime. I can get back on the original course with the same level of passion. Those materials – the stories, the drive – are always with me.
Ryerson’s “The Philosophical Novel” was a very engaging study about writing as an exploratory exercise. I can’t say that I consciously ask questions to write a story, the story answers its own questions. He wrote that David Foster Wallace stated that “fiction offered a way to capture the emotional mood of a philosophical work” and I found myself nodding in agreement. When I write a story, I am capturing a series of events, a specific time in one’s life that ultimately leads to some significant change for that person and of those around him or her. Philosophy comes from such examples, otherwise they’re just statements, air.
I think many novels we read border on that term: “philosophical”. While rereading a piece I’m working on, I found lessons that I didn’t set out to write about in the first place. I’ve never set out to reflect specific doctrine in my writing and characterization as Rand did with Objectivity or Sartre with Existentialism. I don’t call my stories Christian-based fiction just because Jesus is mentioned; the characters just go to church, and besides there’s a lot of other language in those tales that would throw them off such designated bookstore shelves anyway.
Writing can silence the demons.
My favorite stories to write are those which stem from a “what-if” thought. I had one aptly pacify my anger by fictionalizing a moment when a truck cut in front of me one day, thus presenting an interesting short story thriller. In the meantime, there are many voices demanding the chance to play a role in some events that are begging to be told. Unfortunately, some of those stories I’m not yet ready to watch unfold. I realize I need to one day give them the floor, since I know that writing can also silence the demons. As Dillard also said, I’ll have to eventually “expose these scenes to the light… and write with that blood” – the breathtaking beauty of words. (Dillard 20)
Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Print.
Ryerson, James. “The Philosophical Novel.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 4 Aug. 2014