Monday, March 17, 2014

Why We Write - An Occasional Series

Why do I want to write?

What drives the impulse to express oneself in writing? It's no different from the source of any creative urge toward the arts—to dance, to draw, to sing, to write, to design. Human beings love to express themselves in a way that says something about who they are and what they want to achieve.

The writer Anne Lamott, in her writing book Bird by Bird, quotes other writers' answers to the question of why we write. Poet John Ashbery said, "Because I want to." Short story writer Flannery O'Connor responded "Because I'm good at it." For me, it's an urge I've felt since childhood, and it can't be denied. But being good at it is also an incentive! Writing is fun to me, no matter how difficult a writing day may be.

Perhaps we weren't all born with a gift for putting that message out there, but most of us find some way to do it. Creativity is a uniquely human trait. Sometimes it drives a person to join one of the writing groups at Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative. They may come in feeling shy, awkward and uncertain about their ability to write—especially when it involves reading what one has produced in a 20-minute spontaneous writing session.

That's not unusual. Even the most experienced writer has uncertainty about his work at one level or another. Perhaps it's the publisher who drops her from the list, or the agent who doesn't call back. Or it's the writer who cannot even find an agent and worries that the future means self-publish or die (in this case, meaning fade away, unread). For the writer who merely wants to say something for future family members to read, or for her own satisfaction, there are uncertainties as well. I've seen that before.

The first thing to do is get over yourself. Really. We're none of us perfect. A new writer who comes into the group may not produce more than a paragraph the first time. Or, having written a little, he or she may be embarrassed to read it aloud, worried that others will consider the work amateurish. Some read through tears, having unleashed an emotion that's lain dormant inside them for too long. Some come in laughing, and stay to write a piece that will entertain all.

As the weeks pass, each person gets better at writing in a small window of time. The ideas come more readily, the prompts stir ideas more quickly, the group becomes familiar and thus less threatening.

Our group members take turns reading what we've produced, then other members note what they liked about it, guiding a writer toward more insight into the piece. Anyone is free, at any time, to "pass" without comment. As weeks pass, we learn something more about our writing, and begin to look at it with fresh eyes. We may continue to work more on the same piece, or start something new each week. A number of writers save their writing and use it later, creating a short story, a memoir, a scene.

I've come to believe no one who wants to do it is a non-writer. Some are not "good" at it, true. But often enough those same people have a wonderful story inside them that they are trying to get out. In time, they do, and the others in the group benefit from their raw experience, beautiful viewpoint or witty charm. It happens, regularly. There is something emotive and pain-letting about writing, but there's also a wonderful strain of joy that fills a writer when the words come out right.

We learn, through these sessions, to refine our thoughts and trust our insights. We learn to write unafraid and trust others to be interested and helpful in what we've done. We learn that we can let go of hidden fears or angers and move forward. Sometimes, writing is therapy without a bottle. Then, it becomes a game of learning—about style, technique, impact.
There's progress from week to week, month to month. A few people will drop out once they've discovered what propels them to write, or choose another avenue that better suits them. Others return and end up working on a project of their own. Yes, there are some really good writers, as we might dub them, but they are among the most understanding and supportive participants in the groups. They want you to achieve your goal, regardless of its scope.

Writing is a real door-opener for beginners and advanced writers. Come try it out, and see how it fits in your life. There are informational brochures at the library or you can chat with Assistant Director Karen Silverthorn.

Ann Connery Frantz

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