And, the Question is: Why do We Writers Write?
There is no right or wrong answer. I came to literature as entertainment. I devoured books as soon as I learned how to read, perhaps because my mother was a voracious reader-mostly mystery books, and later in life romance novels. Probably because my mother read to me-fairy tales and nursery rhymes-or my sisters read them to me or did I read them to myself? Doesn’t matter. Literature was entertainment; and, it was also a place a child could go to escape the place she was in—unfamiliar places.* My sister and I went to the neighborhood library almost daily because my mother was a fast reader and we children were the supplier of books-and cigarettes (in the 50’s children could go to the corner grocery store and buy cigarettes simply with a note from a parent).
No doubt, many writers write to entertain, especially fan fiction writers: romance novels, vampire stories, mystery novels. That doesn’t mean they’re all fluff. I admire the research that goes into most writing. Research immerses a reader in setting-time and place/history or future. However, all of the writers I’ve worked with write because they have a story to tell. They are witnesses’ of their own and other’s stories. Joy Harjo’s The Women Who Fell from the Sky comes to mind; in “Wolf Warrior” she writes: “I know I carried this story for a reason and now I understand I am to give it to you.”
I ask students: what do you obsess about? What story is it you need to write, what story do you write over and over again, or, what story haven’t you written because you’re afraid to write it? I ask these questions because I think it is a human need to understand. I write to understand myself, to make sense of who I am. Other writers may search for other epiphanies of understanding, whether of spirit or science; whether of the past, the present, or the future. It’s all good.
There’s an audience for all of our stories. We may be our own best audience, but there’s an audience, perhaps beyond our reach, that doesn’t yet know they want to/they need to hear our stories. Someone once told me that releasing our stories to the public is part of the writing process. I tend to agree. It may be an intimate sharing with a family member or a friend, or a public sharing at an open-mic. It might be publishing on social media, self-publishing a book, or having a book accepted by an independent, or not, publisher.
Why do we write? Because it gives us pleasure, but sometimes grief; writing is a tool to understand ourselves, to witness, to tell the truth, to imagine—to release joy, pain, and anger. We write because our story, and stories that are important to us, were not the stories we grew up with reading. They are the stories we lived. With writing we have the power to record history, condemn it and/or praise it, and /or reimagine it; we have the power to be.
Writing Exercise: *Unfamiliar places I visited, as a child, through reading were, amongst many, the following books: Flicka, Ricka, Dicka; Curious George, Dr. Doolittle, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, Little House on the Prairie, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Five Chinese Brothers, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, and many more. What are the places you visited, as a child, through books? Were they familiar places? Write a children’s story that reflects your experience as a child.
©Sherry Quan Lee, March 4, 2016
Thank you for this post…a good reminder to know why I write.