I’ve never been able to understand why most people love writing. Or trying to write. Or thinking about writing. Or why they secretly cling to that most unattainable goal — to imagine that they just might BE a writer.
Consider the words of them that’s tried it: “The first draft of anything is shit.” “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” “If you want to be a writer, develop a thick hide.” “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” And the one that breaks my heart: “There is no greater agony that bearing an untold story within you,” Maya Angelou said, and she should know.
I have been told since I was a child that I am an excellent writer. And that was always nice to hear but hard to value, since growing up female in the 1950s — or at least in my house — was a highly programmed experience. Being a “good writer” felt a little dangerous. It was out there somewhere with buck teeth or being over 6 feet tall. People might notice you. Writing wasn’t a goal for girls!
It sounds like whining, but back in the day young women were expected to aspire to marrying well, mothering well, getting a degree to “fall back on” (also known as the “MRS” degree, IF they were lucky enough to go to college), and to at all costs remain “nice” — sexually desirable but virginal, capable but subservient, strong but weak, intelligent but never competitively so.
Writing was, perhaps, a vague curse. It was easy to doubt that writing could be an activity of much value, other than making it easy to compose timely thank you notes or write out the weekly grocery list. It could bring trouble!! Remember Dad’s words of wisdom (and warning): “Don’t rock the boat!” And yet….
Writing is everything to me. It’s a comfort and a support. It is a need and a drive. It’s so personal. I am so exposed. It’s embarrassing and enchanting….sometimes a dreaded duty of sorts, and always my secret delight.
I believe writing can be this for all of us. I’ve heard “we read to know we are not alone,” and I believe we write for that reason as well. The words come from within, and often in the dark. Sometimes they wake me up at night. Writing feels like a mixture of noble desire and raw self-promotion — I just can’t wait to tell you! Listen to this! I want to tell you something. But why would you listen? It’s confusing. The process thrills me, though! There is a surge of joy — a high — when the “right word” comes. It feels like a miracle.
There’s adventure, too. Where is this thing going? How will it be said? Note I did not write “how will I say it,” because I will not say anything. The writing will come of and from itself, and I will merely witness the birth. I am in touch with something larger than myself. I am in awe.
Writing helps me understand. As I write I can undo the tricky knots of life — the “whys” and the “what’s nexts?” Writing often tells me how to handle things, shows me the way. It’s a road map, of sorts. I get a sense of what is really going on. Clear directions help us find a friend’s new home, disarm a bomb, or make a killer boeuf bourguignon. I need directions. I can hear myself better on paper. I recognize the sound of my real voice.
There’s the beauty, too. Immortal words. Vivid pictures. “Listen to this!” moments. Reading a well-written phrase can stop the breath. My own writing is cathartic and helpful to me — and hopefully helpful to you, too. But the beautiful words — the poetry, the song, the essay — these we read, we quote, and perhaps even embroider them — on our hearts, if not on a piece of linen.
I won’t get out my embroidery floss for Kurt Vonnegut, but I love this ditty from Cat’s Cradle:
Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly.
Man got to sit and wonder “why why why?”
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land.
Man got to think he understand.
Writing helps me — helps us — understand. That’s why I love it. Don’t you?