Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Why we write

This is a huge topic, I know, so you have a long weekend to reflect. :) This question was sparked by an item in a Garrison Keillor column in Salon (registration may be required). I’ll excerpt the relevant paragraph here:

I came back to Benson School as the only boy in the sixth grade to have seen New York City. Enormous status. Royalty, almost. A girl asked me if it was true that trains ran underground and went fast, and I said, yes, it was true and I had ridden them. It was the first time I had original experience to offer to an audience. That’s how a writer is born. You went, you saw, and now you tell the others.

This isn’t quite what motivates me, and I suspect it’s not Mr. Keillor’s entire motivation, either, though you could extrapolate it and include journeys in your imagination. You have almost an obligation to report those, because nobody else can.

If I had to narrow down my motivation to write to one thing, though, it would be the characters that populate my imagination. They don’t usually spring up fully formed, like Pallas, but rather require some nurturing to reach maturity. On occasion, they continue to intrigue me. I want to write down their adventures so that they won’t be lost, and perhaps in that sense, my pack rat tendencies serve me well–I live in fear that the characters will fade from my mind, their hopes and dreams forever lost, the same way that my fear of forgetting what the date of the Joe Jackson concert was prevents me from throwing out a ticket stub.

Funny, I hadn’t thought that “why we write” was going to relate to hoarding, but I guess it kind of does. I just stumbled across a letter in Salon (that’s two mentions in one post) about a guy dealing with his wife’s hoarding tendencies. Cary Tennis, responding, linked to the children of hoarders site, which, to bring this post to a fitting and circular end, contains a number of affecting letters describing some interesting characters who really deserve their own stories.

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2 responses to “Why we write

  1. Rikoshi May 26, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    I’m actually a huge pack rat, too. I keep little manilla envelopes full of scraps and stuff that would ordinarily go in a scrapbook or something, but which I’m just too lazy to organize. I don’t ever really go back and look at it, either, but I’m loath to throw it all out. Go figure.My motivation for writing, I think, is mainly the extreme joy I experience in getting to tell a story. Very often, I’ll write something just because I suddenly think, “Hey, I want to tell this story,” and there are other instances where that becomes, “Okay, I need to tell this story.”Perhaps that just ties in with your assertion that journeys in the imagination are an obligation for the storyteller to tell; it’s not an obligation I mind, and in fact, I rather delight in it, at least most of the time. It’s just kind of always been something I’ve done, either with or without reason, and all I know is that I get really antsy and restless and sometimes downright sad if I don’t get a chance to tell the tales in my head.

  2. Tim May 28, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    I definitely get antsy myself if I’m not telling a story, though sometimes I can’t pinpoint the reason until I stop and think about it. I think you’re right in that it’s just something I’ve done–if not always, then at least from a very early age.Maybe that’s a topic for another entry: what’s the first story you remember writing down and showing someone?

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