I asked myself, “Why did I choose to write?” That is, I almost asked myself that question. I knew the answer mid-sentence and therefore didn’t complete the question. The answer is simple, and probably something I have in common with other writers: I didn’t choose writing. Writing chose me. After all, why would anyone actually choose the rejection, the sleepless nights, the frustration that comes once you’ve rewritten a piece for the hundredth time and still hate it, and the legion of little self-doubt monsters that haunt you for any number of reasons?
Ahh…the sleepless nights! How wonderful it would be to get an idea and decide to deal with it in the morning! That, of course, is not how it happens; and trust me, I’ve tried. The general scenario is this: Inspiration hits me and I promptly look at the clock. For some reason my hours of greatest inspiration fall between 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. Knowing that if I start writing I could be up for hours, and also knowing that I have things to do in the morning, I try my best to roll over and fall asleep (or go back to sleep). But then I hear that little voice in the back of my head that says, “You know you’ll forget by morning.” To combat that voice, I end up going over and over in my head the little gems that must be written down. At that point, I know I have a choice. I can either sit up and take the time to fumble around in my drawer for my notebook and pen and at least write some notes or an outline, or lose the sleep I was so desperately trying to get by lying awake all night thinking about it. In fact, this very blog is being written from notes that I began writing at 2:43 a.m. As for fiction, it’s like my characters poke me in the middle of the night and say, “Seriously! You’ve had me sitting in this same spot for the last week mulling over how to get me moving again, and now you finally know and you’re not going to get up and write it! Yeesh! Some writer you are!” And of course, my character wins.
As if that’s not enough proof that writing is, at very least, something I have to do, my mother recently had the opportunity to show me that writing is something I have always done. I recently moved out of my home state of Pennsylvania. I’d been out of my parents’ house for years, but I had never been more than 20 minutes away, and there I was, at my parents’ house preparing to move 6 hours away. My mother, as many mothers do in such situations, began feeling nostalgic. This led her to pull out her memorabilia box full of things my brother and I had made that she’d saved over the years. Much to my surprise, because I had forgotten about most of this stuff, the box was full of little relics, perfect weapons against the self-doubt monsters. There were napkins…yes napkins…with little poems and story ideas. Also included were notebooks full of things I had written when I was bored, complete with little doodles as illustrations. There was even one poem I wrote for my mother signed “your favorite future author,” or, in my five or six year-old spelling “your faveret futcher author.” Or something like that. The point is that I’d always done it. And if I happened to have an idea and no pencil and paper readily available, paper towels and markers proved perfectly acceptable.
I used to get borderline offended when someone would compliment my writing and suggest that I might have a career in it. But I see now that writing was the only constant through the many phases of my life. When I was into dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, I wrote about what I might discover on a dig. When I wanted to be a veterinarian, I wrote about being a kind and loving veterinarian. When I was certain I wanted to be a famous actress, a phase that lasted so long that my first college major was Theatre Arts, I wrote stories about what my life would be like in Hollywood or on Broadway. Yes, I did attempt to write a play once, but stories were more my thing. Finally, I gave in to writing. I changed my major and magically my schedule became full of writing and literature courses.
The trick now is making a fruitful occupation out of it. Once offended at the suggestion that writing may be my calling, I now lap up those comments like a malnourished kitten faced with a bowl of milk. For the most part, writing has been its own reward. I love the feeling I get when I “finish” a piece. I put “finish” in quotations because a piece is never truly done, but still, there is nothing like that feeling of accomplishment once I’ve written the final line. As someone who writes dark fiction, I live for the moment when I manage to send a shiver down my own spine. It brings a feeling of success and happiness that, while it may be fleeting, is the high point of my day. And that, my friends, is why I write.