Whenever people find out that I write, they always ask me the same question: Why do you write?
Well, I almost never have the answer they expect. More importantly, I spice it up and wing it each time, just to see the looks on some people's faces. Let's just say, I like to spice things up, because saying "it's the only thing I seem to be good at," is just too boring and I'm not even sure it's really true.
I've never had an answer.
I just write. I don't have a particular reason.
One time I told a lady that I wrote because I greatly disliked blank pages. She looked at me like I was nuts and said: "Oh. How nice," then took a sip of her lemonade out of a plastic cup and began to inch slowly away from me.
I listened to a columnist who wrote, and I believe, still writes for The Denver Post, speak about why he wrote. Mind you, he didn't say that he wrote in general for this purpose, but it makes sense to apply it in all reasons and forms of writing.
He simply said: "I write for reaction."
He pissed off a lot of people apparently with his columns, and he enjoyed it. It meant that he was reaching people, and he enjoyed reaching the people who disagreed with him in particular, because they were fun. They not only insulted him, but they also presented their side of the story, or argument, or whatever it is they're harping about, and it made for an entertaining and educational few days prior to the next column for this guy.
I wrote for the school paper in college, and my experience was not quite as exciting. I was a reporter for a few semesters, then I became a columnist. I wrote about all kinds of stuff. I wrote about Eminem, SUVs hogging two parking spaces and making me late to class as a result, and Iraq pre-war stuff. I always worried that I was pissing someone off, so I censored myself and wrote generally agreeable or neutral topics. Even the stuff about Iraq was pretty neutral with nothing more than a lament for the loss of innocent civilian lives due to occasional disciplinary bombings by the US. No one can disagree with how not right that stuff was. The rest was just filler.
I guess you could say I had no backbone as a writer. I wrote just to get published and nothing more. I wanted legitimate and published writing samples for the future, and that was what I produced.
My words formed into opinions really were nothing more than words put on a page to avoid the blank pages I told the lady I disliked.
The paper I was featured in was distributed every Thursday on a three-school campus, in the heart of Denver. Lots of people read that paper, and it was a paper with a reputation that insured you an internship with some employers. In all my time as a reporter or columnist, I never received any response from readers. At the time, I was just glad I hadn't pissed anyone off.
Today, I write to win t-shirts and feel cool.
But a little while ago, I wrote a column about Reuell S. Millar, the seventh oldest man who is no longer. I was so fascinated by how long this man had lived and how much he'd seen and experienced. That was the only purpose of my column, to try and grasp and present this man's life. It was barely read, never rated, and never provoked any comment from anyone.
I pretty much filed that column under "dud" and kept writing other stuff, still believing that Millar was a fascinating man.
But in turn, that column turned into a turning point for me. I now have a real answer when someone asks me: "Why do you write?"
Just yesterday, I noticed that someone had discussed the column titled "The Habit of Living", and I was in for quite a surprise.
Reuell S. Millar's granddaughter had read my column, and it reached her.
Annie Smith wrote:
"It was heart warming to find this piece written about my grandfather.
The soda fountain was called the "Town Talk" and it had a juke box and a dance floor and they served burgers/food. (My grandparents worried about the teenagers not having a place to hang out!)
I got assigned a paper in the 7th grade to write about what I liked best about myself. I didn't understand the concept at the time.... I wrote about how I liked my grandfather the best!
He drove cross country to see me when he was 100 years old and had a flat tire in the desert that he had to stop and fix. He still arrived in his suit and tie, not even looking frazzled. He was an amazing, awesome man and I feel very blessed to have had him as my grandfather. I'm still blessed with the memories.
He did lead a full life on so many levels, as you said, and he led a good life, he was a very kind man, too.
Thanks for thinking of him and taking the time to write this. As I said, it warmed my heart.
The next time someone asks me why I write, I will have an answer. But I will probably still wing it and watch them inch away, because it's much more fun that way.
Thank you Annie.
Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.
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5.14.07 @ 12:02p
We've got something in common, Reem. I'm a chicken when I write too. Gotta keep it safe, keep from pissing off anybody, keep from embarrassing myself and the people I write about. That's why I write fiction. Even though I've got to use real events and emotions I can call it fiction and (hopefully) get away with it.
I wish I had some tips for you on writing more bravely.
5.14.07 @ 12:39p
It's interesting, because I'm a chicken, hence, I write non-fiction. I love fiction, and I aspire to be a fiction writer... but it scares me to make stuff up, and hope people buy it, even though there is the whole "suspension of reality" thing involved when you're dealing with fiction. Fiction scares me, but it's my true love, or my ideal gig as a writer... but I digress.
I'm not quite as chickeny as I used to be when I write non-fiction. In fact, I've gotten pretty brave in my non-fiction writing, especially with big topics. It's all relative, of course. But for example, the two columns that ended up being features on Intrepid have been pretty brave on my part.
Luckily, I've come to a place where people are open-minded. So far, I haven't had anyone tell me things that deter me from writing what I truly believe, which a lot of times is "untraditional". I think positive feedback, in the sense that even when people disagree, it's constructive... that's what makes you become a brave writer.
5.14.07 @ 5:35p
I love writing both fiction and non-fiction, and starting from a real place each time I do. Luckily, it's become a lot of fun to share stuff with other people. The nicest thing about writing is that I get less chicken and stage-frightened each time I do- I'm at a point where I hope I pull it off well.
And, go for the untraditional. A different spin on something you already thought you knew everything about is great to have.
5.15.07 @ 9:19a
Hm. There's a recurring course at the Iowa Summer Writers' Festival called "Writing Wild," but maybe there should be one called "Writing Brave."
It's ironic (to me) that the writing I do that should be wheels-off often isn't. Because that's the writing I do for me, the stuff that isn't really supposed to be seen by others because it's spent trying to capture that elusive spark of inspiration, or to flesh out an story idea. It's a fight to write in an uninhibited manner; maybe it's because I'm my own worst critic.
Why do I write? Why do people paint? Or play the harmonica? It expresses something. And that something is different with every piece.
5.16.07 @ 11:44a
Hhmm, you should've been here when I first joined and published my columns...
I pissed off so many people.
Now, however, I still write with no remorse. It's just that I now know what to write about and how.
5.17.07 @ 12:35a
Thank you Reem! This made my week! I've been coming back to read more of your writing! I was excited to find this!
6.11.07 @ 3:01p
I was about to confess to also being somewhat of a chicken, but now I realize that all of my best writing on this sight has been something that I've either been very emotionally attached to, or felt very inspired to write. So I don't know that it's so much a matter of being a chicken, but more a matter of really feeling like you have something to say that you think other either would, or should, be interested in.
And Mr. Castro is right - he pissed a bunch of people off.
And it was wonderful.
Nothing beats passionate writing. Nothing.
6.15.07 @ 2:10a
I check back often to read your writing. I feel I've learned a lot of new things from your perspectives and that is always nice...you stretch my mind a bit!
I'm still missing my gramps....