The Literary Ace and I go way back…
I’ve seen this question going around the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks, and then a survey I took for a writing website I subscribe to inquired about my reasons as the lead-off question. That’s just a deep question to put on a survey in my opinion. I had to answer the other questions first and then come back to it.
I started with a simple answer of, “Because I have stories I need to tell.” I was making up stories in elementary school, usually using my Barbie dolls as actors. (Hmm, perhaps I should try directing as well.) and the ideas never stopped coming. Books and movies only spurred my imagination, as I would read and watch things that made me say, “I wanna write like that.”
In the sixth grade, I repeatedly checked out Requiem for a Princess by Ruth M. Arthur from the school library. I read Judy Blume and I loved John Hughes movies. Later, I discovered Nora Ephron and Cameron Crowe. In high school there was To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby; my freshman year of high school I read Rich in Love by Josephine Humprhies. Then I took a southern literature class and could not have felt more at home than if I were sitting on the squeaky glider on my grandmother’s front porch.
That answer, however, wasn’t enough, so I tried, “It’s the best thing I can do.” I can do math, but I’ve always been a better writer. I wrote sappy poetry in my ninth-grade science class. I’m horrible at sales — just ask my boss from the telemarketing job I had in college. I’ll never paint a masterpiece or perform a life-saving surgery, and I’m okay with that.
What I can do is string words together into an article or ad copy or a story, and I do that rather well. That might sound conceited, but I’ve done this professionally for almost 20 years, and people keep asking me to help them and others do read my work. Obviously, I’m doing a better than average job, and if I am, why not focus on that? Why not try to improve?
What I finally decided on for my answer was a combination of the two responses. Because I have stories that I need to tell and because writing is the best thing I can do, I don’t know how to NOT be a writer. I can’t imagine my life doing anything else.
A few years ago, not long after I started this blog, I found a quote from Ranier Maria Rilke that truly applies:
Ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down deep into yourself for the deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, I must, then build your life according to this necessity.
Jarlath Conroy on left; Freddie Highmore (all grown up) on right
Along those lines of why I write I discovered a statement that sums up WHAT I want to write. Two years ago an indie movie called The Art of Getting By was released. The Husband rolls his eyes when he catches me watching it, but I do so for a couple of reasons: (1) I like it. Is it the Best Movie of All Time? No, but it is well-acted and has a quiet charm to it, in my opinion. (2) The main characters are teenagers, and a couple of stories I have in the works center around kids in high school and college, so I’m sort of “studying” these flicks.
Last night I found the third thing I like about it: an art teacher’s description of his assignment. Jarlath Conroy’s surly art teacher Harris McElroy challenges George with one final assignment and his description struck me as something I — and any writer for that matter — should aspire to achieve with my writing:
I don’t believe that dumb, lifeless assignments are the measures of a person’s soul. I want one, one meaningful work from you. I want you to look in the mirror, listen to your gut, and make an image that speaks to the real you — what you care about, what you believe. It can be big, it can be small, it can be painted in bat shit — as long as it’s honest and fearless.…Something you’ve never had the courage to say before.
So now that I’ve got that figured out, cranking out that book will be a cinch!