Posted October 24, 2011 by
Last week there was a Twitter hashtag circulating called #whyIwrite and it was interesting to see some of the responses.
Susan Orlean said “To make sense of the world, to hear stories, to tell stories, to feel alive.”
Neil Gaiman said “Because I can lie beautiful true things into existence, & let people escape from inside their own heads & see through other eyes.”
Jennifer Weiner said “Because I love it. Because I don’t have a choice. Because it makes my readers happy. And because it pisses off the literati.”
Elissa Schappell said “I don’t know what I know, what I really think or how I feel until I see my words pinned down on the page like specimens.”
I said “It’s like breathing; I don’t have a choice.”
It’s true. Writing for me has always been a compulsion. It’s something I don’t have a choice about. It’s something I must do. All the time. I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. As soon as I learned to write I began crafting stories. Granted the very first ones were about ladybugs getting married. But by the time I was in middle school you would have been hard-pressed to pry a notebook out of my hands. I carried one around with me all the time and filled it with stories about girls who ran away to California (seriously) and lengthy journal entries and angst-filled attempts at poetry.
I’ll never forget one Thanksgiving on Cape Cod when I showed some of my poetry to my cousin Jessica who was getting her MFA in creative writing at the time. She was incredibly kind about my tortured and cliched verses and at the top of one page she wrote two names that I’d never heard of before.
Anne Sexton & Sylvia Plath
Those two names changed my life. When we went home to Atlanta the next week I asked my mom to take me to the bookstore and I still remember pulling those first two slim volumes of poetry off the shelf. I took them home to my basement room and curled on my bed, reading the kinds of words and sentences I’d never dreamed could exist.
Those two writers and their careful words opened up an entirely new world for me. They gave me permission to experiment, to try to fit sentences–no matter how strange–to the things I saw and felt. Before long it was all I could do to put my pen down. By the time I graduated high school I had filled a dozen notebooks with poems and prose. (They all currently reside in our garage in Santa Monica.)
It’s amazing to me to think that by the time I was 15 years old I knew, unequivocally, that I wanted to be a writer. And that nothing else would suffice. I recently came across a video of me at age 16 hanging out with some of my high school friends. We were taking turns talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. In the video I lean across a counter, my skinny frame folding up on itself, and I declare that I am going to be a famous writer. “I don’t know what I’m going to write about yet, but I’m definitely going to be a writer.”
Like I said, it’s like breathing; I don’t have a choice.