Why write?

Hemingway there is nothing to writing

I was engaged in a conversation with another mom the other day – a mom I don’t know very well. We started talking about what we do for a living. I explained that I’m a freelance writer and do most of my work for educational publishers. She was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I told her. That led to me venting a bit about rejection. When I came up for air from my whine fest she bluntly asked, “Why do you do it?”

I was taken aback for a second. My first instinct was to defend my profession, my industry, myself. And then I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever asked myself why I do it.

I’ve always written. I’ve always been called to paper and keyboard; to tap out a rhythm that echoes my days; to chisel a world from a scrap of dialogue; to connect through words unspoken. It’s my way of hashing things out, of processing things, remembering things, making sense of things. It’s my way of escaping, relieving stress, learning more about myself, pushing myself, disciplining myself, teaching myself.

Writing, for me, takes the jumbled mess of thoughts knocking about my head, and organizes them, colors them, ties them up with perfect little bows and compartmentalizes them in chronological or alphabetical or any other -ical order. Or maybe it doesn’t do this at all. Sometimes a writing session multiplies the jumbled thoughts into an unruly vagabond tribe — wayward and haphazard, searching for a place to land — voices too distinct to ignore. Voices I will surely revisit. Either way, I always learn something in the process and by the time it’s done, whether it’s a news article, a non-fiction unit of study, a blog post, or a picture book manuscript, I am changed for having written.

Something happened over the summer. Somewhere in the stretch of structureless days I lost sight of my writerly self. It wasn’t until I resumed creative writing for a freelance opportunity that I remembered  “rejection” is just another word for “try again”.

Sit back down, face the blank page. Take it bird by bird.

Feedback, when given authentically and truthfully, is a catalyst for growth, an opportunity to push yourself and your work to new limits, to beyond limits, to utilizing muscles and tools you didn’t think you had but you did. You had access to them all along.

With the rejections that I’ve received from submitting synopses for this project, I have been granted a second chance. Because with each one, I held tight to a character or a scene or a plot that I begrudgingly relinquished for the sake of this project. And now they get a second chance at life. A limitless life. Rejection has resuscitated the storyteller in me.

All of this is not to say that rejection doesn’t sting. Of course it does. But I’m happy enough with my progress on this project thus far to recognize that maybe, just maybe, I never really wanted to relinquish a few of these little darlings in the first place. Maybe they were always meant to be mine–part of the vagabond tribe with voices too loud to ignore. I don’t know that they’ll ever see the light of day, and I don’t presume that a beckoning voice means their stories will flow seamlessly from my fingertips. Crafting their stories might turn out to be hard work. Some of them might fight the page. Others might careen onto paths unforeseen and I’ll have to trust where that takes us. Maybe to a dead end. But maybe not.

“I hate writing, I love having written.” -Dorothy Parker

So why do I write? Though it might cause bleeding from time to time, the high from having written is enough to move forward, to make me think I can do it again and do it better.


17 thoughts on “Why write?

  1. muddledmom says:

    I’ve always had that need to write. It’s like I have to just get it out and once it’s out, ahhhh, better. I’ve never asked myself why either. I think I’ve always been rather grateful for it.

    • Lara Dotlich Anderson says:

      That’s the thing — it’s just something I’ve always done as automatic as walking or sleeping. I think that’s why her question threw me for a loop. I’m pretty sure I asked, “What do you mean?” as my first response. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Anna Spanos says:

    When I was in grad school we used to joke that it was only a good workshop if at least one person cried. Now, when I teach freshman comp I tell my poor, unsuspecting students the same thing – my goal is to make them better writers, not to make them feel good about themselves. And believe it or not, they eat it up! And, more importantly, they improve. It’s nice to hear what we do well so we can replicate it, but we can’t get better without knowing what we’re doing wrong. Believe it or not, the negative feedback is one of the things I miss most about grad school (which is not to say I’m looking for hecklers to come visit my blog!).

    Thanks for linking to Bird By Bird. I reread it recently when it showed up on the list of books recommended by the writing faculty this semester and remembered why everyone loves it so much. I even sent my students home with an assignment based on Shitty First Drafts this week!

  3. Lara Dotlich Anderson says:

    I love that you’re hard core with your students. I took a few creative writing classes as an undergrad (I was a journalism major because journalism seemed like a more dependable/respectable form of writing at the time. Also, my mom is a writer and I think I was rebelling against turning into her clone). Those were the most nerve-racking classes of my entire undergrad career! But I loved them. Bird by Bird is one of those books I turn to time and time again. I learn something new every time I read it. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Nina Badzin says:

    Love those quotes. And yes, it is so so so true that the high from having written is what also pulls me to the next blank page (well, screen)–despite how much I dread that starting point. I love editing my work. Writing it down in first place? Not so much.

  5. now at home mom says:

    a beautiful and inspiring post Lara, I’m very happy to hear from you! 🙂 it’s been a long time, please keep writing your beautiful posts 🙂 I miss reading about you and your family 🙂
    hope you are doing well! take care!

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