When I introduce myself as a writer, responses are always varied. Some are with piqued interest, some with feigned respect, most with slight confusion and snarky jokes related to the “starving artist” role (which my bank account has unfortunately taken to heart). A follow-up question, if asked, is usually, “What do you write?” Of course, based on how I judge their initial reaction, my own response varies from the brief genre mention–“Oh, I write fantasy and dabble in science fiction”–to the overwhelming let-me-tell-you-about-all-of-my-planned-life-works that has happened on maybe one or two occasions. Yet what has been a really rare response to my proclamation as a storyteller has been not what, but why or how.
“Why do you write? How do you do it? What is your process like?”
Perhaps I’m not often asked these questions because usually, people don’t want to go that in-depth into my brain about my craft (which could also result from the fact that I’m not surrounded by many fellow writers and people are less likely to “get it”). Or perhaps it is because I’m not published, and thus, cannot be taken seriously. Honestly, I never noticed the absence of these questions in juxtaposition to the overwhelming inquiry of the “what” until a colleague and friend of mine asked exactly that. We were sitting outside of class–both of us writers, talking about what we were working on–when she asked me why I wrote. I was so taken off-guard by the question, I don’t think I gave her a proper response, even after I attempted and she proceeded with asking follow-up questions (regarding process and the how). So, here is my attempt to give a proper response now–or, as close to proper as I can, as rereading this, I realize this post goes everywhere. I apologize, but I think that’s just the nature of this particular beast.
Why do I write? I’ve reached the point in my memory loss where I can’t remember when I first “decided” to be a writer, as I don’t think it was ever a decision for me. It’s as natural as it can be (and that doesn’t mean that I’m automatically good at it or that I’m destined to be a great writer; but it is natural). It was always just fact. I read a lot as a kid–and still do–so I was living within my imagination more often than I ever did in reality. I distinctly remember in the 6th grade (or maybe 5th?) writing a story that featured all of my classmates. I can hardly remember the plot, but I do remember there being flying pigs and skeletons with red eyes that carried buckets of blood-stained daggers; I remember thinking how terrifying that was and giving myself nightmares from these skeletons I had created. Then, in 8th/9th grade, I remember starting to write a book that was supposed to be the start of a seven-book series. I got roughly 100 pages in before I stopped, but I had at least two different English teachers and a college professor read through the draft. I still have the edits from the professor and his kind note about how I should continue to chase my dream of being a writer. It was very kind of him, as looking back, while the imagination was full-throttle, the writing quality was less so.
The point of going down memory lane is that I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing stories. And while I said–and believe–that I don’t remember ever deciding to be writer–storytelling is as much a part of my DNA as my blue eyes or brown hair–I do believe that it wasn’t until college and afterwards that I made the conscious choice to continue pursuing being a writer, no matter what. Writing takes skill and practice and dedication, and all of those things are choices. I believe a person can choose to improve their skills, take the time to practice and dedicate their free-time to writing stories. And anyone can do that, if they have that desire. It says nothing about the skill that person has as a writer, but anyone can choose to be one and practice being one.
Yet, for me, personally, it goes farther beyond making that choice and intentionally honing my skills and trying to improve and praying (and working) to get published. I don’t write for the glory of writing. I don’t write because it is what I’m “good” at–though being told I have a certain amount of skill that cannot be taught was encouraging, especially during my adolescent years. I write because the act of doing so makes me feel whole. Reality sucks. I have a great life and am blessed immeasurably, yet I still constantly have a desire to escape and go somewhere else. That’s where reading comes in. But I also have an innate, inbred, thriving desire to create. And that’s where writing comes in.
When I sit down to write, it usually starts off slow, no matter what project I’m working on. I’ll have to read a couple paragraphs, fix a word or two, before I can get into it. But once I start moving, it becomes almost effortless. Eventually, I reach a point to where it is much harder to stop writing than it was to start. Because in those moments when I’m immersed in a story created within my own head, fueled by my heart, I feel more whole and content than in any other time to date in my life. You know the cheesy saying about how people are “meant” to do things? Yeah, that cheesy saying comes to life when I’m living in my own word, breathing life into characters who constantly mold and shapes themselves.
That’s the other main reason I’m fascinated by the question of why do I, personally, write: my characters create themselves so much more than I do. It ties in with my process, which, it hurts me to say, I’ve never been able to find the words to describe accurately. My stories are usually born on a whim, from me imagining myself doing anything other than what I’m actually doing. For example, I’ll jump in the shower. Except it isn’t just a shower. It’s a shower installed on an airship. Or in the barracks. Or whatever location my mind wants to create (usually inspired by whatever book I’m reading or game I’m playing, at first, before it twists and distorts itself and takes a life entirely on its own). But it’s not just a shower on an airship or in the barracks. It’s a shower being taken right after a major battle, where mud and blood are still caked on the body. Or it’s the first shower being taken in three weeks. And suddenly, instead of imagining myself in this slowly-building situation, a character starts to form. She’s an assassin who just failed her first mission. She’s the newest member of an all-male crew and she’s self-conscious as to how they will react. Slowly, I’m taken out of the equation and instead, this new person I didn’t know existed, with life unfamiliar to mine, is created. Finally, the most important part: the questions. I’m left wondering: what is her word like? What is her personality? her past? How does she fit into society? Who surrounds her? And slowly, like removing layers of an onion, more and more is revealed to me until I have enough to form a story, create a life.
Guys, this happens all the time. While I’m showering. Doing dishes. Driving. Working. Working out. Dreaming. Eating. If I’m not dreaming up a new world, I’m fascinated by one I’m already working on and actually writing down, reliving scenes or creating new ones I want to write later that day. My brain is constantly coming up with new scenarios, new worlds, new people and new lives to explore. Except, when I finally daydream enough to have a solid…ish idea for a story and sit down to write, I don’t feel like the creator. No, instead I feel like a prisoner, the onlooker, the spy. Once a character is born inside my head, they take shape and create themselves on their own accord. I’m simply at their mercy, trying to record the events of their lives quickly enough that it still makes sense at the end of the day, accurately enough that I do them justice and beautifully enough that others one day will be as captivated reading it as I was watching it unfurl and writing it down. I can’t list the amount of times I’ve been writing a story, with a plan of where it was supposed to go, and then, while writing, realized I was wrong and taking it a completely different direction that was not part of my plan, but once I realized it, was exactly where the story needed to go; where it was meant to go. In my completed trilogy, about a dozen scenes throughout the three manuscripts were planned and stayed as planned. All the rest of it–and almost the entire second book–fell into place, as if I was being instructed what to say by those characters who were living it. Because they all feel real to me. All the characters inside my head. All the ones I record. They all feel very, very real, which makes writing about them 20 times more enjoyable and 20 times more heartbreaking.
I’m still not sure if my process makes sense. I’m sure many see it as insane and not only a little bit odd. But my mind is constantly creating, constantly living somewhere other than my presence place. I write because I am a tool for my own creations. In many ways, despite creating them myself, I feel like I owe my characters to record their journeys, almost as if they were given to me instead of created by me. As if I were the “chosen one” to receive their stories and get the “chance” to slave away and record them. So yes, I write to stay whole. I write to feel complete. I write to express myself–and my characters. Most simply, I write because I must. Because I’m not me when I’m not writing; not fully. Publishing is a dream, but it is never the ultimatum. When I’m 80, I’ll either have shelves filled with the books I wrote or a flashdrive with manuscripts completed but never published. However, not writing is never an option. It is never a choice, despite the choice being there. It simply is.