The blogging world threw out a question the other day that was worth my consideration. Tangled Lou wondered in print why do we do what we do? Specifically, she was curious about the details of her readers' writing lives. Why do we write? How do we decide about what to write? Do we wait for inspiration or do we just write? Is there an editing process for our writing? Compose on the computer or with pen and paper? Does your mind shut off when you write or is it alive?
My answers are essentially yes. I write for lots of reasons. My work world is full of writing and that writing is very clear cut. It is purpose driven and needs to be well thought out, organized, succinct, engaging and without mechanical error. It often becomes public so I always keep my audience in mind when I write at work. However, although I never object to communicating at work, that sort of writing is not the same as the recreational writing that I most enjoy.
I write daily. The first thing I do every morning is to check my email and respond to whomever I see there - my sister, any one of my brothers, my children, my cousins, one or two very close friends. On a typical morning, I will wake myself up over an hour's time with solitary writing and reading. In large part that is about staying in touch with my people but it is also a forum for me, a place to begin something that will later take on a new direction. I often return to my keyboard at the end of my work day and review some idea that I started in the morning. There are so many unfinished posts on my homepage. I hold on to my drafts, all waiting for further inspiration. Sometimes some idea pops into my head, often while reading something else (a book, another's post, an article I am reading on line or in a periodical), and I throw some words down so that I don't entirely lose the thought.
I have never felt competent in the fiction world. I love good stories but I don't know how to tell them. I don't know how to make them unfold without seeming contrived. I don't know how to make a story drive itself. And, so far, I am not interested in learning how to do that. I do enjoy reading and playing with poetry. I like structured poetry but I have to have the challenge put in front of me before I do that. I like the notion of creating images with words but it is always so personal to me. I usually can't understand how anyone could make sense of my so called poetry but then I remind myself that my poetry doesn't have to make sense to anyone. Even me.
The essay is my favorite form of writing. I usually do lose myself while writing a blog post, for example. I just let the words roll off the fingertips onto the keyboard (and, yes, I write on a MacbookPro - his name is MacHenry). I am ALIVE when I write - much as I am ALIVE when I paint. I do not want to be disturbed. I prefer to be entirely alone when writing or painting. No distractions. I don't even want another person in the room (though that is often impractical). I generally write the better part of a post, for example, in one block of time but I will put it away and come back to it the next day or even the next week. I always do at least a rudimentary edit but often return to the piece the next day to add or remove some thought.
But WHY do I write? Fundamentally it is about making something clear to myself, putting a box around whatever it is that won't stop nagging at me. I do like playing with words, true. I like to paint pictures with words. I enjoy the challenge of selecting just the right word for this feeling or this sensation or this fear or this complex idea that is spinning out of control in my head. I don't write so much for an audience. I do write for the feeling of achievement and discovery that I often experience. Sometimes I will be so surprised at something that I wrote. It will be so perfect yet I am the only one who knows that. And - here's the embarrassing part - I will go back and read it a year or more later to see if I still like it and, almost always, I will still be moved by that piece of writing.
I do want to add that I am NOT that impressed with my writing from twenty or more years ago. When I look at the journals I kept, say when my children were small, or the love letters I wrote in college (and, yes, I have been known to do that) I am not pleased. I think I was writing for some audience that I didn't really know or trust and it shows. Now? Now I write for me. My writing seems genuine and not designed to impress. I just like to figure things out.