In response to this week's (give or take) writing prompt, so thoughtfully provided by the Gentleman Savant. The question (in its short form, because my response is so long no one will read it anyway, especially if I add 10 or 11 lines of questions): how do you write? What process do you use? And do you consider yourself to be a writer?
Am I a writer? Good question. Sure, I write, but is that enough?
I would propose that it is not the act of writing that makes one a writer so much as the act of seeing. For me, it is all about looking at an image or event – in life, in my head -- and writing in order to allow someone else to see the same picture. Maybe it’s because I’m also an artist, yet I’ve noticed my inclination is to render a scene with words rather than with paint. The tools have always been there, and I have always been able to construct a sentence and quickly put down thoughts. But it took a certain amount of maturity to discover that I had something to say. Whether anyone wants to read what I have to say is another question, which I’ll avoid in the interest of preserving my fragile writer’s ego (and using backwards logic, I suppose if I have a fragile writer’s ego, then I must, in fact, be a writer).
Writing, to me, begins with recognition. Recognition that there is something valuable, something funny, something heartwarming, something quirky, something insightful, something absurd or something ironic – whatever the adjective, that there is something worth preserving. In my younger days, I tried to hold onto those moments with a photograph, but as an adult, I’ve discovered things that cannot be captured that way. The way it felt to hold my toddler as she sat on my lap, stretching her chubby arms up to wrap backwards around my neck, fingers locked, trusting, tender, still, my arms wrapped all the way around her tiny chest, fighting the urge not to squeeze her as thoroughly and tightly as my emotion would dictate — the absolutely heart-wrenching sweetness of the moment. Or the poignant beauty and sadness, all wrapped into one gigantic wave of grief, standing beside the tiny grave of my friend’s infant daughter, four women bonded by friendship and pain and compassion, dark dresses fluttering in the gusts of wind, damp, tattered tissues clutched in our hands, wondering how Tisha will ever bear to pull herself off her knees, rise up off the wrinkled carpet of Astroturf covering the clods of dirt that will soon envelop her baby’s body in the dark earth. How is it possible to walk away from that place? Literally or figuratively?
It is moments like these that I have to write. Not because of any particular talent with my words, but because I am an observer. A translator. (Does anyone else feel that way?) If I can ever take the poetic beauty I see in my mind and translate that into language that will evoke the same ideas in another person’s mind – then, only then, will I be able to call myself a writer without feeling a bit like an imposter.
When I read Stephen King’s book on writing, he said something along the lines of this: develop your characters, really figure out who they are, put them smack dab in the middle of a situation, and then write them out of it. I guess that’s sort of what I do, even though I write non-fiction. Know where I’m starting, and then write, waiting to see where I end up. Looking for truth. Insight. Resolution. I can write just about anywhere, noisy or quiet – in the coffee shop, listening in on other people; on the couch in the living room with feet up and laptop propped on my lap; sitting upright in front of the 30” monitor in my office; or by hand in my journal. Process: pen held between my teeth (I bite down when I concentrate, sometimes hard enough to split the barrel down the middle — but it also keeps me from eating the whole box of donuts I write about), general direction or outline already roughly worked out in my head before starting, and then just pour it out. I jot random thoughts and phrases at the bottom of the page until I’m ready for them. Writing by hand is fun for me because it forces me to edit as I go, but on the computer, I love to play around with the words, sounds, paragraphs, order, structure, etc. I remember the first paper I ever wrote on a computer, and it was like there was angel light projected from the heavens, shining down on that little mechanical box... so many choices, so many possibilities. No more retyping a whole page just to change two words. Ahh, the excitement of it all…
Or maybe I’m just a geek.
A geek who juggles the schedules of three kids, a husband, and her own clients. So I have never been in control of when or where I write… but for me, writing is my “me time.” I’m not official enough to justify setting aside specific times to write. I just take what I can get. And hope that someday people will take me seriously enough that I can call myself a writer without feeling the need to write nearly 1,000 words to justify it. (Is anyone out there still reading? Which makes me wonder… if a tree falls in the woods… if no one reads it, am I still a writer? Yeah, but probably not a very good one.)