A Simple (and Complex) Question, A Complex (and Simple) Answer

It was just one of those questions that sometimes pop up during the course of a conversation–unplanned, spur-of-the-moment.

“Why do you write?”

I was having lunch with a friend, an accountant who had just confessed to me that he’d never so much as attempted to write a short story in his entire life, let alone a novel.  What motivated me to create fiction, to invent stories and situations and then share them with others, he wanted to know.

I opened my mouth, then closed it.  It was such a straightforward question.  And yet–no one had ever actually asked it of me so plainly, so baldly.  Why did I write?  On the surface, it seemed, I should have had an answer ready.  After all, writing was my passion, and always had been.  I could remember writing stories as far back as the second grade.

write

 

But I wasn’t sure how to respond.  Did I write because it was fun?  Sometimes.  When a story flowed, when the words spilled out of me so fast I couldn’t type quickly enough, when characters spoke lines that seemingly came directly from them, supposed figments of my imagination, and not from me at all, it was a rapturous experience, a high like no other.  But other times, it was brutal, as I dissected, edited, and picked apart my work.  Was it rewarding?  Yes, of course.  But that, in and of itself, didn’t capture the essence of why I write.

My friend’s straightforward question suddenly seemed more complex.

Drawing a blank, not certain how I could adequately answer it, all I could think to say was, “You know, I’m not sure.  It’s just something in me, that’s all.  Writing is  something I have to do.”

My friend had a thoughtful look on his face, and I expected he’d follow up with more questions.  But then he just nodded, and changed the topic of conversation.

That night, I lie awake, thinking about it, and the exchange bothered me.  My answer seemed too pat, too simple.  My need to write, and to share my writing with others, went deeper than that.  I just wasn’t sure how to express it.  It was like trying to lasso a passing summer cloud, high overhead, force it down to ground level, and then jump inside, hoping it would float away again, taking me along for the ride.  How was I supposed to put something like that into words?

That conversation happened twelve years ago. . . .

**********

The question of why I write is not unrelated to another question I get often:  “Where do your story ideas come from?”  On the surface, the two questions are different–but in actuality they are linked, two sides of the proverbial coin.  Ideas, I have found, cannot be “forced.”  I cannot wake up one morning and state, boldly, “Today I will think of a new short story and write it.”  It doesn’t work that way–at least not for me.

In my experience, ideas come when I least expect them–while I’m out mowing the lawn, running an errand at the store, taking a walk along a quiet country road.  Sometimes ideas come when I’m at a large gathering, even while in the midst of a conversation.

And sometimes they come in my dreams.

The genesis for The Eye-Dancers came to me over twenty years ago when I dreamed of the same “ghost girl” Mitchell Brant dreams of in the first chapter of the novel.  But when I woke up, I didn’t know what to do with this strange, haunting girl.  I knew I wanted to write about her–but I had no story in which to place her.

It took two decades until I did, when, once again, I dreamed of her.  But this time, upon waking, I had the basic concept of the story in place.  And despite the fact that it all began with the ghost girl, the story would really be about four boys who ultimately go on a dimension-busting journey, where they not only have to overcome the otherworldly dangers they are confronted with, but also the insecurities and hang-ups that plague them.  I knew right away, as soon as I woke up that morning–this was a story I had to write.

It was an exhilarating feeling–it always is when an idea strikes, takes hold of me and won’t let go–not until it forms into a living thing, with flesh and bones and cartilage, heart and mind and soul, right there on the page.  Whenever it happens, I am reminded of a quote from Ray Bradbury:

“Write only what you love, and love what you write.  The key word is love.  You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

bradbury

 

For me, there is no other way.  I can have–and have had–grand ideas, rich concepts, fantastic plotlines that never will see the light of day.  The reason?  I don’t care deeply enough about them.  The idea, in and of itself, might be interesting, but it doesn’t grab me by the throat and demand a life and vitality of its own.  It just sits there, like a Victorian gentleman sipping his afternoon tea, pondering the benefits of a nap.  If I tried to write about it, it would come out dull and drab–and it would, indeed, inspire a nap!

With a novel, in particular, you have to love your characters, love what you’re trying to create.  It is too long, too formidable of a project to accomplish otherwise.  There were days while writing The Eye-Dancers that I honestly didn’t know if I could continue.  The task seemed too large, too hard, too daunting.  But then, when apathy threatened to take over, I would think of the themes the story delves into–themes I care deeply about:  the essence of childhood, the art of discovery, the struggles and joys of growing up, the curiosity to wonder, the daring to believe in magic, the exploration of the universe, and of what we term “reality” itself.  And perhaps most important of all, I would think of Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski–four characters inspired by friends I knew growing up.  The Eye-Dancers is their story, and I wanted, needed, to tell it.

universe

 

And maybe that’s the best way I know to explain why it is I write fiction, and why I desire others to read what I have to say.  I write to explore and further awaken pieces of me, and I want nothing more than to share those pieces, those memories and truths, those fears and loves, with you.  It is my hope that The Eye-Dancers accomplishes all of that, and more.

When it’s all said and done, I look back at this and smile.  Because maybe, just maybe, the answer I gave my friend all those years ago is, ultimately, the best answer of all.

Why do we do what we do?  Why do we follow our passions?  What makes us driven to write and sing and dance and act and garden and play and cook and paint and love, and do those things we were put on this earth to do?

Why do I write?

It’s just something in me, that’s all.  It’s something I have to do.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

52 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yheela
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 17:18:02

    Brilliant quote, says it all, doesn’t it.

    Reply

  2. Maryanne
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 18:29:50

    Great post, thank you for the insight 🙂

    Reply

  3. mlbk7
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 18:44:06

    People like you, who inspire, is the reason why. Your writing is perfection at its very best.

    Reply

  4. becky6259
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 18:48:26

    It’s so good to be fueled by a passion — so many people wander through life, no goals, no dreams. You have turned your passion into something good, tangible and contagious. The way you talk about your passion reminds me of my son when he talks about his passion — you both express yourselves in very much the same way. Good post!

    Reply

  5. laurie27wsmith
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 20:34:44

    Great blog, I write because it has saved my sanity, oh yeah and I also love it.
    Laurie.

    Reply

  6. Anne Chia
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 20:59:14

    Lovely post Mike. I really enjoyed reading it. I write because I have to, it is one of those things I started doing from a really young age. I keep at it because it makes me happy.

    Reply

  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 21:00:08

    You write for the same reasons that I paint & sculpt. It’s just something inside me, and has been all my life. And to be able to share with others is an added joy. When I come upon a piece I did years before, I sometimes think “Yes, it is still good. It still tells a message.” I think your message is an important one Mike.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 24, 2013 @ 16:59:19

      Thanks so much. And you bring up an interesting point–looking at your own work from long ago. Sometimes when I read a story I wrote a long time ago, it almost feels as though someone else wrote it. A very interesting and eye-opening experience!

      Reply

  8. 2embracethelight
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 21:03:45

    HI my friend
    I love writing. My editor set my blog up for me as he felt as much as I enjoy writing that it would also be a great outlet for emotional and physical well being. I write also because I love to share with others in my thoughts and their’s. I love learning from others. I love understanding their hearts. I love to give others encouragement and also receive it. It has opened a whole another world within that I thought might exist, but wasn’t sure until that door flew open gradually and increasingly over the past several months. I can’t stop writing now. It is more than a passion. It is the umbilical cord to my inner self to the worlds I see, share and touch. It has made me grow, overcome and become a better person. And in the process, I have found so many new and wonderful friends- friends like you.
    Heartfully
    Yisraela

    Reply

  9. europasicewolf
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 23:08:36

    Great post 🙂 This is what I love about discovering writers here on W/P! Not only is there much to learn but there is such a wonder in discovering also that, as with this post writers, no matter what stage and level they are at share many traits, that for myself at least, being somewhat isolated till I began to meet writers here, is really great. I am not alone! For example in where ideas come from, how you feel when a story comes to life and flows with a life of it’s own…why we write…people who have no interest in writing in any form just do not understand the need and the satisfaction etc that comes from it, regardless of whether it is in reality an awesome work or actually a disaster but a disaster that you love! lol Having been ridiculed for many years by those who think writing is a waste of time etc it is wonderful and truly refreshing to discover a whole world of people I wouldn’t have known about without W.P, of a like mind and who do not see the traits we have that make us wish and love to write, as freaks…thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  10. Christy Birmingham
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 23:11:53

    I think sometimes we do lose sight of why exactly we started what we now do allll day long 🙂 I try to keep reminders at my desk or look at things I wrote when I first became a freelancer. Great post!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 24, 2013 @ 17:02:46

      Always great to hear from you, Christy! And you’re right–sometimes having reminders around of why we got started, why we do this–is a very good thing! Especially when the words just don’t want to cooperate.:)

      Reply

  11. indytony
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 23:48:06

    I love the Bradbury quote. I feel so passionate about this question, I created a page entitled, “Why I Write” that is the most viewed page on my blog.

    Reply

  12. Laura A. H. Elliott
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 00:02:57

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. I love the Bradbury quote. Another quote I enjoy is “Follow your bliss” –Joseph Campbell. Sometimes love doesn’t need a reason other than the fact you can’t imagine life without it 🙂 Passion is like a great love.

    Reply

  13. Lyn
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 00:09:27

    Great post Mike. It’s hard to explain to someone why you write. If they’ve never written anything, there’s no hope of them understanding. I guess the only way to get them to understand is to relate your writing to something they’re passionate about and ask them whey they to a certain thing, be it gardening, cooking, painting or some other creative pursuit. Personally, I write because I can’t not write.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 24, 2013 @ 17:05:42

      That’s a great point, Lyn–trying to compare the need to write to something else–some other thing the other person feels a passion for. That is the only way they can begin to relate . . .

      Reply

  14. mummyshymz
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 08:04:44

    I can feel your passion for writing. Perhaps that (plus your talent) is why I enjoy your posts so much 🙂

    Reply

  15. araneus1
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 09:37:55

    someone asked me the same question today and I’m afraid that my answer was less than what I hoped it would be.

    Reply

  16. words4jp
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 12:54:17

    Great post – asking people why they do what they do is such a simple question and one would think the answer could be quick and to the point. but it is not:)
    i believe you answered it perfectly!

    Kimberly:)

    Reply

  17. FreeRangeCow
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 18:11:31

    Sometimes we write just because we have to…to feel better. ;oD

    Reply

  18. Carol Wuenschell
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 18:26:57

    I have one word for you: Yes.

    Reply

  19. blondecyclone
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 20:34:21

    Persactly! I was born with stories and cannot imagine being anything else without first being a writer. Loved this post 🙂 Thanks.

    Reply

  20. lolarugula
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 00:49:51

    I, for one, am very glad you write! 🙂

    Reply

  21. likeitiz
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 05:17:28

    Yes, it is so exhilarating when your ideas just flow, like a rhythmic breeze. You said it so aptly: you just have to write what you love and then love what you write.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 25, 2013 @ 15:26:26

      Very true–without the passion and feeling in your writing, it just becomes a chore like anything else. You have to write about the things you care deeply about. Thanks for your comments!:)

      Reply

  22. Fashion Mayann
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 06:32:20

    Really inspiring, I adore your ending “It’s something I have to do” …

    Reply

  23. joseyphina
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 23:59:28

    Lovely post, Mike! A very enjoyable read! I’m glad to have read this. 🙂

    Reply

  24. mcwoman
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 12:26:17

    As always, I enjoyed your post. I get asked this question, too. I suppose most writers do. For some reason, people who don’t write think what we do is magical. Some of it is, but most of it is just hard work–like any other professional endeavor. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it. Just trying to put it in words is impossible for a non-writer to understand. Love the Bradbury quote!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 26, 2013 @ 13:23:01

      These are all great points, Barbara! And you’re right–people who don’t write do not realize all the hard work that goes into it. It’s a long and arduous process!

      Reply

  25. reocochran
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 17:44:15

    This not only covered many writers’ feeling and thoughts about the “why?” but also lead to a great discussion. The connection between writers is unique but not unlike musicians, artists and craftsmen, all have a passion and want to share it. Sometimes there will be someone on a blog that says they write “for themselves” but surely wouldn’t they just put it into journals and store it up in their attic? I think we are all a little (allowed to be) interested in how other’s view our writing… Just my thoughts today, may change by tomorrow!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 29, 2013 @ 19:19:00

      I agree completely, Robin! I think, in many ways, you have to first write for yourself–write what you love, what you’re interested in. But there is no greater joy than sharing that writing with others and having it reach them in some way. It’s a wonderful feeling. Always great hearing from you, Robin!

      Reply

  26. kelihasablog
    May 01, 2013 @ 12:54:18

    If I don’t write… what little I do… LOL, then the thoughts and words just rattle around in my head until I let them out! 😀

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 01, 2013 @ 16:06:52

      Hi Kat! Well, the key is that you let them out! I have sometimes been tied up doing something else when an idea strikes, and that is frustrating, because at that moment, more than anything, I just want to write down what I’m thinking!:)

      Reply

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