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Why I write

December 14, 2011

Normally, I prefer the life of the writing bumblebee, worrying less about how I stay aloft than about collecting the pollen. However, Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads wants WUTA members he’s publishing to share a blog post on the topic, so here I am. I like to make publishers happy.

I like to make readers happy too. Sad, and angry, and scared as well–but mostly, happy. That’s because when I read, I like to be made happy, sad, et al, and I respect the quid pro quo. Of course, one need not write happy stories to achieve happy results–the darkest books leave the brightest memories.

So that’s one end of the rope accounted for: desired effect in the reader. Now for my end. I struggle, as I hope most humans do, with much of life; not merely the day-to-day challenge of keeping a roof and food over my head and on the table, respectively, but with Western Civilization’s ongoing insult to my humanity. (Note: all civilizations, past and present, insult the humanity of their citizenry. To believe otherwise is to give credence to the notion of a lost Golden Age. Don’t.)

I respond poorly to these insults. When people who should know better, being human themselves, promote an injustice as not merely tolerable, but desirable? I rage. I fume. I bellow. Or rather, I would, if the social cost weren’t so high. Conscience may or may not make cowards of us all, but the prospect of a life full of righteous indignation makes one of me. Stridency is not my strong suit.

Writing lets me express in a socially acceptable form tendencies that would otherwise get me shuffled off to the margins of society. While I love creating characters who live on one margin or another, I distrust those who romanticize living there. Margins are dreary places. Writing also enables me to engage in cheap retribution against historical figures I loathe, which may be more of a personal issue. Still, unlike peeing on grave sites, it won’t get you arrested.

But wait, there’s more. Writing also enables me to describe moments of lucid intensity, of surpassing joy, of boundless exhilaration; I don’t know about you, but I experience that sort of thing less frequently than I’d like. To write a story is to build a roller coaster to your own specifications. To publish one is to invite others to take a ride.

That covers the highs and lows. What about the in-between, where most of us spend our days?

Even on the broad, flat plain that is mundane existence, writing gives me a chance to explore. When you zoom in close enough, the mundane teems with detail. A gesture, a phrase, a repeated word: the art of getting one’s point across, of describing a tableau, of conveying a complex emotional reaction all reward me when I nail them (and taunt me mercilessly until I do). The simple satisfaction of doing my craft well keeps me going while I’m waiting for the next spine-tingling moment to gel. Perhaps I can even sneak in an idea or two.

So: giving in to base urges, reaching for the stars, and playing with words. That’s why I write, pretty much. Okay, being a frustrated actor, musician and artist and having no other useful means of self-expression have something to do with it to, but we don’t need to get into my personal life here, do we?

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