Friday, August 7, 2009

But Why Persist?

I've posted the research, the various facts, but they don't get at the heart of the matter.

Why do some writers persist and others don't? (Feel free to say check after any/all of the following that apply to you ...)

Some writers start out writing because they want to be understood, they want to fall in love.

Some writers write because they want fame. (Fred Chappell has claimed that he had a boyish desire to be a writer because he thought it would lead to adoration from women and fine cars ... )

Others might write because, on some Freudian level, they're pissed at their daddy, and this is one way to off him -- metaphorically speaking.

Others need money.

Some want respect.

Others want to give witness.

Others want to process the ugly realities of humanity.

Some see it as therapy.

Others were raised to believe in "being called" -- anyone else have Vocation Day in Catholic school? -- and once called by God, you can't give up...

Others -- like Toni Morrison -- went looking for their own story and didn't find it in literature and then had to write it.

Others -- as Saul Bellow would put it -- are readers "moved to emulation."

Some are compelled by some inward word-barrage that needs an outlet.

Others are outraged by the world or alternately stunned by its beauty in the face of its ugliness.

Others need to make sense of family.

Some hear words read aloud and the ticking begins in the head -- an artful mimicry -- and it must be let out.

Some want to resurrect.

Some want to build a family.

Others want to give voice to those who've been dismissed by society.

Others want equality.

Some do it for the puzzle-like challenge.

Some see it as a way of righting wrongs.

Some want their mother's love.

The list is unending. (Feel free in the comment section to add your own reasons ...)

Now, from here, I see it as a house built in a floodplain on stilts. If you write for only one of the reasons above, your house will topple.

If you write because you want a confidant and you want to fall in love, you may well fall in love with a true confidant, and therefore you no longer need to write. If the pretty myth of women and fine cars is broken, you might decide to take your show to Wall Street*. If you go through therapy and realize that you can't really off your father, even metaphorically, and your mother's loved you all along, you might feel healthier and no longer feel compelled to torment yourself with writing literature. If you find the book written by someone else that so beautifully and achingly tells your story and you find deep comfort in that work, you may decide that the work has been done.

But the more reasons you write -- let me restate: The more reasons you need to write, feel compelled to write, the more stilts your house is built on, the sturdier and more enduring it will be.

Now, the strange thing here is that one would think a sturdy house would be a metaphor for health and a deeper kind of stability. Not in this case.

Writing, for me at least, is the disease and the cure. (If I were healthier, would I write less? Perhaps.) It is the thing I am compelled to do for many reasons. It is, as I've said before, how I breathe ... And so the air passing through those lungs is good. (Right? It has, in any case, become necessary.)

But there are times now too when writing is also how I pay for my children to study the art that moves each of them ... I write, as I confessed earlier, for the twisted desires of both respect and readership -- though not usually at the same time. I've resurrected. I've committed literary murder. I've given voice to the dismissed. I've wanted my parents' love. I've given witness. I've needed therapy and found it in words. My own list goes on and on...

I have desired love and understanding, and I've found that no matter how I've found that love in my real life -- profoundly so -- my desire doesn't quit. And I've figured out that the success or failure of any piece of writing depends almost solely on one thing -- my willingness to fall in love at a given moment. Am I feeling generous enough to pour my love and attention on my characters, my sentences, my stanzas? Sometimes the answer is no. And the work fails. I have failed it.

I need the writing for all of my various needs and desires, and the writing needs me -- all of me, to bring all of my various needs and desires to bear. My mother has this phrase she uses about motherhood that's always baffled me -- You are the mother your child needs right now.

But I understand it when it comes to writing -- I am the writer my story needs, born perhaps of my failings but saved by my willingness to fall in love.

Julianna Baggott & Bridget Asher