Why Do You Write?
For as long as I’ve had this blog, one of the questions I’m asked most often is some variation of “why do you write?” If you have a writing blog, I’m sure you’ve been asked that question too. If not, maybe once you’ve finished reading this you’ll find yourself asking yourself. Or asking someone else. Or both. Or neither. For all I know, you’ve already stopped reading. If you’ve not, you probably should. The rest of this is rubbish.
How you answer that question says a lot about you as a writer. Maybe even more than you realize. Typically, I’ll say I’ve been telling stories as long as I’ve been able to form complete sentences (perhaps even before, although I’m sure those weren’t very interesting stories to anyone). But that, while true, doesn’t quite explain why I do what I do. Stories about my story-telling childhood may be interesting and lovely (or they may be neither), but my saying that doesn’t explain why I write any more than you telling me about the great food your grandmother used to cook for Sunday dinner explains why you eat.
Why do I write? The truth is I have no fucking clue.
Writing and I have a long history. In elementary school, my teachers would consistently predict to my parents that I would be a writer when I grew up. To my more practical-minded parents, I’m sure this sounded a bit like a curse. In high school I started “seriously” writing poetry. My parents found my poetry and became convinced I was suffering from depression. Regardless of how true that conclusion may have been, I never let my parents read my poetry again.
In college I started writing a novel, and submitting my poetry to various publications. I was in the place where I see a lot of you here on Tumblr today. My freshman year of college, I was invited by the then-Editor of the Asheville Poetry Review to open for him at a reading and share some of my work. I expected to read one or two poems and sit down. I’ll never forget the first thing he said to me, after introductions had been exchanged: “Will 15 minutes be enough?” I’m glad I took my entire binder of poetry with me. As the first two people read their work, I feverishly went through my work, trying to find 15 minutes of material. I was never published in Asheville Poetry Review, but the editor did send me a hand-written note, telling me to keep writing, and thanking me for giving him the opportunity to hear my “passionate voice” in person. I’ll never forget that either.
I lost interest in writing, though, and got distracted by a number of other things that don’t bear mention here. I worked for student newspapers, wrote research papers, won awards, wrote a column, and ended up in law school (where I was on the staff of the law journal, wrote a law review article, and won legal writing awards). I became a lawyer.
Then, in September of 2009, I was in a car wreck. It seems like it’s been longer. It hasn’t been. I checked. I had a severe traumatic brain injury and both my hands were paralyzed. There was no prognosis. Every brain is different, every brain injury is different, I was lucky to be alive, etc. Lucky. That word has little meaning when you can’t feed yourself or read a paragraph of a book without falling asleep — which assumes you somehow found a way to hold the book open to begin with.
And all I wanted to do was write. I did the most boring physical therapy exercises known to man so I could fucking write again. I sat at my laptop and poked at keys with one finger to write things, despite that it’d take me four hours to physically type 200 words (with breaks for naps). Once I could type again, all I wanted to do was write.
There really are few things I can do very well. Writing is one of them. The odds were 80% I’d never recover mobility in my hands. Had that been the case, I’d have become a big fan of dictation.
Why do I write? I may not be able to answer that question, but good luck trying to stop me.