Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why I Write

Often, in my travels (or is it travails?) as a writer I have had the opportunity to speak with other writers, unpublished like myself, and the subject of being published almost always comes up. Occasionally, the other writer will make a statement along the lines of: "Well, I don't care if I ever get published because I write for myself."

"Pardon me?" I want to say, "but what's the point in that?"

For me writing is many things: a must because I simply can't stop doing it; fun, especially in the first few drafts; painful as I tend to base most of my writing on my own personal emotional landscape; and hard, damned hard, with each word being a wrestling match of thesaurus versus my vision to make sure I have the most perfect choice. Writing for me is tough and difficult and sometimes not enjoyable and, above all, work. And if I'm going to go through all that, well, to quote the lyrics of "Dance Ten, Looks Three" from A Chorus Line: "...dancing for my own enjoyment? That ain't it, kid! That ain't it kid!"

I want to be published. I want to be read. I want to have my voice heard. I have things that I want to say, commentaries I want to make upon life and the world around me. But if there is no one to hear/read them, then I might as well just sit in my apartment talking the wall, rambling like a madman because that's what "writing for myself" is comparable to, no?

Writing for me is collaborative: like dancing or having sex, it's best done with two people (or more, depending). When I'm writing, I'm writing for an audience, for readers who, in their need to understand the story I am telling and believe the actions of the characters within the story, drive me to be clear and concise in my writing. Because I write for others, I am a better writer.

In my younger days, when I first started writing, I wrote just to write, which was a form of writing for myself, I suppose. The results were less than coherent, mostly ramblings with multiple digressions that were painful to read. Very much like diary entries with no discernible plot or character development...or, ultimately, purpose. I remember reading for a writing group during this period. The piece, "The Daddyslayer," was stunning in its heavy-handedness, its cacophony of ideas and images that were nothing short of verbal vomit, a purging of my "soul" that included an unseen villain (The Daddy), a trapped victim (nameless, of course) who lived in a village of unknown origin, setting and time period, who sets out on a journey to find a mythological being called "The Daddyslayer": "he'll rid you of that Daddy, once and for all, he will," says a stranger in a tavern where our young hero has found himself along his quest. He eventually meets the Daddyslayer, after a dramatic encounter with a pack of wolves (still not sure why they were in the story) where he begins a rigorous training because, of course, HE is the Daddyslayer! All this in only 5 pages! All I remember from the crowd of faces in the writing group was the stunned silence, then the hemming and hawing before someone, mercifully jumped into the fray. "Well, that was intense." And not in a good way, I was to find out. Other words tossed about: obvious, heavy-handed, over-wrought and lacking focus. "Who is your audience?" someone asked. Well, I had never thought of that, which was painfully obvious. At that moment in my writing dream, I had never thought beyond the end of my pen (yes, my pen as this was pre-PC days).

I realized that I didn't have an audience in mind. I simply purged myself onto the paper, a sort of bloodletting that proved uncomfortable and painful to the reader, if they could make themselves even read the huge blocks of type set before them. It was then that I began to study the craft of writing, the art of writing for someone else.

Some may say that writing for "someone else" will harness the raw, organic flow of our thoughts and emotions, but it doesn't have to. My raw emotions, my thoughts and ideas about the world and the people who inhabit it, are the clay from which I sculpt. The first draft of any project is where I dump my raw materials out on the table to see what I have to work with. Usually by the end a shape will form, dull and lifeless, maybe monstrous and unable to communicate properly to anyone other than myself, sort of a Frankenstein creature at best. But it is a shape none-the-less. It is during the revising process that the shape truly takes on life and breath (hopefully) and becomes a full-fledged entity that can interact with others. I like to think of myself as 'enry 'iggins molding 'is Eliza Doolittle.

The point is: I have to write for an audience in order to write well and coherently. And I have to write with the hope of being published, and with the idea that I am going to pursue that hope by sending my work out there into the cold, mean world of agents and editors, otherwise I will need to drive myself to the nearest sanitarium for a lifetime membership and start babbling to the first white, padded wall I can find.

But that's just me.

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