The past few months I have been taking a class called “Tools of Engagement: Revitalizing Reluctant Readers and Writers”. Most of the course involves teachers discussing strategies to motivate students who are not interested in reading or writing. In a recent online assignment, I said the following:
What do we mean when we say writing? Is it an expression of the soul, a format, a way to express understanding and knowledge, a way express academic function, all of it, something else. I know what most parents I talk to want it to be, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Of course, I naturally carried this question over to my own writing. Why do I write personally? I didn’t really do it as a discipline until about two years ago, but now that I have committed myself to the craft, what am I trying to accomplish?
The initial answer seemed simple enough to myself. Of course I wrote to express my soul. As a reader, weren’t my favorite texts, Life of Pi, Blindness, The Grapes of Wrath, just such expressions? Authors trying to unravel the world through their own particular lens. I could look at my first attempt at a novel, Our Father, a story illustrating my attempts to reconcile the violent God of the Old Testament with the love Jesus expressed in the New as an expression of my inner conflicts where it comes to Christianity. I needed big, long form storytelling to sort out the complex inner working of what I believed, who I was. Wasn’t this why I struggled with writing poetry? My clumsy attempts to pour my entire soul into each line resulted in clumsy, heavy handed ideas.
But a little further introspection revealed that my inspiration really came from concepts. I wasn’t trying to express my soul at all, or at least not at the core of my work, but I was more interested in taking ideas, turning them over in my hands, picking them apart, like a hungry infant trying to eat a leftover dinner roll. My stories were really motivated much more by “I wonder…” as opposed to “I want to help you understand…” Even that first novel I mentioned, was really a response to the question, “What would God of the Old Testament’s actions look like if he were a human man.” My second novel, a story about a 15-year old high school girl dealing with the death of her father and sister with the help of said dead sister’s ghost, was really just my attempt to answer the question, “How do we survive tragedy?” My latest project is completely born from the question, “What would happen if the far right wing militias in the US actually rose up and took action?” Even my ongoing side project, my memoir, is an attempt to answer the question, “Who am I?”
I know for some people, the question “Why do you write?” would be met with a blank stare. I might a s well ask them why they don’t spontaneously combust: they know no other way to live. Okay, so I get it, you HAVE to write. But what are you trying to accomplish with those words? Are you trying to make money? Are you trying to get someone, anyone, the world maybe, to see what is contained deep down in your soul? Are you trying to exercise demons? Are you simply an old school storyteller, the type that has existed since the very first grunts expressed at the very first licks of fire contained by man?
Chris and the Wordwraiths