Possibly the second most-asked question for writers, after “Where do you get your ideas?”, is “Why do you write?”
I’ve reposted the meme about (paraphrased) “writing is like breathing; if I don’t do it I die” several times. A bit dramatic, of course, but I’ve spent so much of my life writing, I can’t imagine doing anything else. When I got a job as a reporter on an aviation magazine, it was a died-and-gone-to-heaven moment: They paid me to write about what I loved, airplanes.
I write because it’s how I communicate best. Often, the spoken word fails me, but the written word never has.
I write because I feel deeply about the world around me. When I saw genocide in the Balkans, I had to write about it. When I saw a disproportionate number of black men killed by police, I had to write about it. When I see injustice, racism, sexism, etc., I have to write about it.
Writing for me is catharsis. I’ve exorcised the demons of my father’s suicide and my mother’s alcoholism by writing them into my fiction. As I said, when the spoken word fails me…
How I Got Started
I started writing stories in elementary school with my weekly list of spelling words. You remember–the exercise where you had to use each correctly in a sentence. My sentences comprised a story, usually about horses.
One year for Christmas, I got an alphabet, rubber-stamp set, and I set about printing a newspaper for my neighborhood–based on what I heard my mother and her friends talking about at the kitchen table. I hand-printed, letter-by-letter, a half dozen copies and left them on doorsteps. Needless to say that didn’t go over well with my mother because I’d essentially repeated her gossip. The rubber stamp set mysteriously disappeared.
In high school, my English teacher caught me writing fan fiction in her class. She confiscated my notebook but gave it back to me the next day. “Keep writing,” she said, “just not in my class unless it’s an assignment.” My very first spy story she accepted as an assignment for class. My first book of short stories, Rarely Well-Behaved, I dedicated to her.
In college, I was the first non-English major to be published in the literary magazine–my first published sci-fi story. (It sucked, as I discovered when I found it thirty-plus years later.)
I had a break in writing after college when I taught school for a few years. I got a job as an editorial assistant for an aviation insurance consortium, and that led to my dream job writing about airplanes and aviation for the FAA. While I wrote articles and briefing papers and white papers and studies and regulations and manuals and congressional Q&A, I still wrote fiction at home.
But it was a long, long drought of having my fiction published–more than thirty years. So, I decided it was time to retire and write for myself.
The Big Mo Builds
That first year after retirement, nothing got published. I remembered how much I disliked those rejection notifications, but I kept at it. First came a story in a start-up lit mag; then, another. Publication in an anthology. Placing well in a contest. Another anthology. More lit mags. Another contest.
In between were agent rejections, self-publishing some short story collections, small publisher rejections, and a few more agent rejections.
Still, all this has made me feel I’m on the edge of something I’ve wanted my whole life, something that’s about to happen. I’ve always said if I could simply get my stories in people’s hands they would find something to like about them, that they would want more.
In the midst of all this, I stopped being the writer others said I should be and became the writer I’m supposed to be.
Why do I Write?
Because it lets me be vulnerable and forces me to be authentic.
What more can you ask of life?