This post first appeared on the Write Bitches website back in May 2015. I appreciate their asking me to think about this topic. I’m reprinting it here because I need a bit of a reminder about why I’m doing this.
I used to be a writer. When I was a child, and probably until around my early teenage years, I was “known” for my writing abilities (you know, by my elementary school). I won childhood awards for my fiction, and I went to sleep at night thinking of stories about imaginary people whose lives consumed me. I still have the novel I wrote when I was 12, an episodic adventure about three people stranded on a desert island, complete with a love triangle and contemplations of mortality and integrity (I was a precocious tween). I drafted over a hundred hand-written pages, and I remember the intense pride I felt at the accomplishment.
Fast-forward many years. While I still employed my interest and skills in pursuit of academic and professional excellence, I stopped writing for myself entirely. I’m not clear about what happened, but it probably involved severe family dysfunction, a descent into addiction, and the resulting loss of my essential self. I forgot who and what I was. I lost sight of my fundamental identity as a writer and it has taken me a long time to reclaim the faculties that make me who I am and largely define why I am here.
We’ve all read the adage that writers write because they have to. There is something inside us that needs to be released. I understand that metaphor, but as I consider my writing, I don’t quite experience it that way. For me, my mind and my hands feel like conduits for something outside of myself that is using me as an amanuensis. Sometimes the experience is more of a dialogue that I am transcribing, and I am able to engage with my Muse and produce the results of our “conversation.” At other times, I will sit down with pen and paper, or at my computer, or just with my thumbs tapping rhythmically at my phone’s touch screen (a favorite writing position for me, strangely), and have no idea what is going to come out. At those times, I’m often filled with a sense of wonder and excitement, as the words that fill the page or the screen disclose themselves to me.
There are times when I read what I’ve written and marvel at the nuance and complexity of my Muse. Occasionally I’ll look back and realize I written something that was revelatory to me. Sometimes, I’ll recognize the thoughts and the analytical process behind the concepts, but the precise expression will make me smile with gratitude that I was the vehicle of expression for those particular phrases.
I write what I write because it’s what I have to say. There is an imperative quality to my writing, now that the faculty has been restored to me. The writing is a gift and a demand of my Muse, who I have embraced once again, and I find I must honor it or ignore it at my peril. Occasionally, I indulge in fantasies of what I wish I could write, but cannot. In my dreams, I create epic stories in my beloved fantasy genre; I join my idols in the paranormal and urban fantasy world and produce books that readers like me fall into and lose themselves completely, only to emerge from the fictional world transformed by the experience. Would that I could write such novels. But I can’t. Because while these writers are my rock stars, I’m only with the band, not part of it. I write what I’m inspired to write while reading the inspiration of others. I’m a derivative writer, rather than an original producer. But that’s OK. I’m profoundly grateful for the gifts I’ve been given, even if they are not the ones I would have chosen. You know, me and Mick, we can’t always get what we want, but apparently we can get what we need.
When I first picked up my pen again after a decades-long hiatus, I had dreams of fame and fortune associated with my newfound passion. I would look out into the distance and think about all the people whose lives I would touch and change for the better. I fantasized about speaking engagements and book signings and television interviews. I was so sure my writing didn’t “count” unless it was externally validated. It seemed to me like the tree falling in the forest; if I wrote and no one read my words, did they make a sound?
I’ve since abandoned that line of thought as my Muse has gently reminded me that the gift is wholly independent of outside input. In fact, my Muse demands complete detachment from the fruits of my labor. As in many aspects of life, I must take the action and let go of the results, as I have absolutely no control over what anyone thinks of my writing, how others will interpret it, and whether it will go anywhere beyond my hands. I spill onto the page and release my words to the universe. Perhaps they will return to me in the form of recognition and praise. Maybe they will join the infinite number of their fellows in the ether, never to be seen or heard from again, except as additional bricks in the wall of creativity that separates our species from the others that inhabit our world.
Art will out. It must, or risk becoming a festering wound, a stone baby, poisoning its creators. Art is love, and love is generative. Whether we experience our writing as spores that grow within us needing to be liberated into the world, or as a whisper in our ear that insists on being given voice, our writing must be freed of the confines of our minds and our souls. In letting go of our words, writers are renewed, expanded, allowed to progress in our purpose and able to feel fulfilled.
That’s why I write what I write.