What Writing Means To Me

I was just tagged by my friend and fellow author Jen Brubacher in a meme about what writing means to me.

She wrote that writing is truth and her elaborations are so perfect and true that I’m kind of jealous she wrote it, not me. It’s particularly worth reading for a certain drunken dwarf’s quote and her thoughts on said quote.

The person who tagged her, Icy Sedgwick, wrote that writing is escapism—and I wonder, really, if any writer lives who wouldn’t agree with her on some level at least.

And the “it” who got Icy? Tony Noland, who expressed that writing is freedom.

And just before him, Ruchira Mandal expounded on how writing is a journey.

Am I trying to cheat by giving the answers those other writers provided? Not at all. It’s just that their answers fit perfectly with what I want to say: writing is many things to me. The reasons I write, what I “get” from my writing, and how I feel about the process vary from day to day, even from hour to hour—yet I find there are always similar tendrils of desire as put my pen to paper or my fingers to my keyboard (to discover, to explore what’s “known,” to have fun).

Writing is a science—especially non-fiction, where I work from a hypothesis (thesis!) (articulated or not) and hone each phrase, insert each fact, and carefully draw each picture or stage I want to reveal to my reader, all the while deliberating on what I know and what I can reasonably infer about life.

The results can be surprising—sometime I realize I need to discard my initial premise because my experimenting (my writing) reveals a flaw in my thinking or logic—a new hypothesis is needed. Other times, the conclusion is exactly what I had hoped/envisioned/felt sure it would be—very affirming stuff. And, as in all science, while there are breakthroughs and massive epiphanies, there is never an arrival moment where all is known, all is suddenly clear.

And writing is magic—especially fiction. Us odd few called to the task, take strange ingredients, some commonplace, some only hinted at in polite company, some imagined, some completely undefined, only intuited, and throw them all together in simmering mess (or carefully measure out and weigh and add in at specific times, depending on our style).

It’s a shadowy art, unpredictable and dangerous even when it’s white. It’s often exhilarating, joyful and fun—but no words appear without some personal sacrifice (even if it’s just time that we worry could or should be better spent) and sometimes there is pain.

When the magic works, we conjure people long dead and still to come. We play with time, sending readers back and forward in both this world and others. A barrage of scents—good and gross—waft from our pages. People curl up, relax and smile—and freeze, sweat, flinch and flee—at what we smooth across their brow, glide along their chest—jab into their bellies. They grow embarrassed, become livid and enraged—weep, laugh, bite their lip and nod—with emotions evoked by lines of text.

We reveal strangers’ stories and end up showing the readers themselves. We hold up a mirror, but it’s our guts and innards that are reflected back at the reader with their lives, past and present, transposed over top.

When the magic doesn’t work—or, at least, doesn’t yield the results we were aiming for—we, sometimes weeping, bleeding, and beaten, return to our worktables to try different combinations, to explore different roots and weeds. We work, despite the pitying looks of naysayers and the laughter, even jeers, of those who doubt our ability or think we’re merely crazy for trying.

And why do people turn to science and/or magic? Because they are searching. They are longing. I am searching. I am longing. For connection, for understanding, for hope and to give hope . . . for many things actually. So for me, perhaps above all else, writing is a quest.

I don’t know why you write or what writing means to you—perhaps, like me, you find your thoughts on the subject toss and change like the ocean—but I’d like to find out and would love you to share thoughts here.

And to keep the meme-tag game going, I tag:

Laura Best
Jennifer Neri
Angela Dorsey
Kathy Chung
Vello Sork

Star Spinner

My family plays a game called Star Spinner. You go outside when it’s dark and find a large field (or at the very least, a space moderately free of dangerous obstacles). One person has a flashlight (turned off for the time being) and heads away from the group. Everyone playing holds his/her arms out to their sides and spins and spins and spins, until from far away the flashlight holder yells, “Go!” and turns on the light.

Dizzy and blind—laughing hysterically, shrieking with nervousness or moaning with a sick feeling of nausea—each person runs as fast at they can (which is always, at best, some lurching, stumbling gait) toward the light.

I’ve played many times, but I’m still not sure who wins. I think the person who gets closest to the target thinks it’s him, but really it’s anyone who participates, who runs stumbling toward their goal, who gets up after falling, who perseveres in spite of the nagging, sensible voices in their heads and the fear (it’s dark; you’re dizzy; you might fall; stand still for crying out loud, stand still!).

Lying (inevitably) on the cool grass, staring up at the stars, still feeling slightly queasy (from spinning, from laughing, from nerves), it doesn’t matter how far you got. You’re just pleased you played. You were dizzy, had no idea where to go, but you ran full out.

Star Spinner—in addition to being just a crazy amount of fun—has always struck me as a powerful metaphor for various aspects of life: for writing, for faith, for relationships. . . .

I can only see so much—and half the time I’m anxious beyond words—but if I push past that and run screaming and laughing into the dark, I overcome fear and realize I’m completely exhilarated. The goal is often still shining somewhere beyond me, but the more I play, the more that part doesn’t matter.