Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Why Do You Write?"

Last Wednesday at 2:30 AM I was driven out of bed by insomnia. That used to be a frustrating and frequent occurrence... I would snap out of a fitful sleep, my thoughts spinning. It would be great to say that my mind was consumed with some ingenious solution to the fighting in Gaza or to the spreading economic collapse, but these brain seizures never seem to address anything significant... even on a personal level. It's just some short-circuit of the mind... and suddenly all processing power is devoted to some triviality like naming every teacher that I have ever had... it's just crazy, useless shit.

Mercifully, the insomnia doesn't happen much anymore. When it does, I no longer lie in bed while the ball lightning bounces around my skull. I get up and do something. Usually I write. On that evening I wrote about why I write. I didn't post it on the blog, because I don't let myself blog after bedtime. (Partly to encourage a regular sleep cycle, and partly to prevent myself from posting stupider-than-normal stuff.) After I finished dumping my brain into my journal, I checked the blogs I read, and was suitably stunned to see that Brad Green (over at "Elevate the Ordinary") had posted an entry entitled "Why do you write?" the previous evening. Quite a strange synchronicity... must be some disturbance in the ether.

So, all of this is a rather long preamble to summarizing what I wrote about why I write. It is, in fact, rather telling that in order to figure out why I write, I wrote about it. Writing is my natural method of problem solving, both on a personal and professional level. On the one hand, it's how I told my Dad that I'm gay, and it's how I grieved when my dog Dante died. On the other, it's how I get myself unstuck when the research isn't moving forward at work—I just pull up a blank page and start exploring my assumptions.

I write in the same way that other people hum to themselves or sketch in notebooks. It is how I explore and map my internal landscape. Because I have been writing for as long as I have known how to spell, and because I write every single day, I have achieved a certain level of skill. I take it very seriously, but only in the same way that a jogger takes running very seriously. Like anyone else, I have fantasies that my novel will be successful; those fantasies are not what get me up before dawn every day, though. I don't expect to become a best-selling author any more than a serious jogger expects to win the Boston marathon. That's not cynicism or false modesty—it's just statistics. The brutal truth is that, if I decide to try to publish my novel, I probably won't even secure an agent. If I find an agent, she probably won't be able to attract a publisher. If the book gets published, it probably won't survive a month on bookshelves. And finally, even if the book did sell well, the next one probably won't.

So, no, I don't write because of any particularly lofty ambitions. The simple truth is that I write because it comes naturally to me, because it is personally challenging, and because it keeps me healthy. That's all I need.