Why I Write – Confessions of an Attention Whore

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” 
― Bertrand Russell

#amwriting

Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds fame proposed a contest where writers squeeze their reasons for their life calling into 1000 words. By the way, if you are not reading The Terribleminds Blog occasionally, stop reading this and head over there. The guy is freaking hilarious and smart. The two usually go together when the hilarity is intentional.

My usual answer to this question is:

1. It’s the only thing I was consistently good at growing up.

2. I love attention for doing something good (see #1). My best friend once told me I was an attention whore.

Digging a little deeper, I realize these are lazy answers. The real core of writing is thinking. I think a LOT. According to my husband, I think way too much.

When tragedy strikes on the national news, or the neighbor’s dog craps on my lawn, or I’m in love with a new book, or pretty much any other thought in any other category presents itself for examination in my mind, a letter forms in my head.

I don’t remember when this started, and I don’t remember a time before it started.

I was always writing actual letters growing up. At 11, I wrote fan letter to Johnny Carson, I corresponded with my great-uncle until he died at 94. After putting my two kids to bed at night, I sat at my garage sale kitchen table with an old typewriter, composing letters in old English to my girlfriend 1200 miles away, begging to be released from the bondage of indentured servitude.

As my kids grew more independent, I pursued writing with intent. I joined a writing group at the local library, read books about famous writers and the writing craft. I never grew bored with the topic, though my family grew tired of hearing about it.

It’s a world that fascinates, entertains and teaches me things. It’s my home planet.

The nearest comparison I can think of is my son, Jeremy. He’s a big guy 6’5″ and 300 lbs, and was recruited for both football and wrestling. We went on many official visits for both sports his junior and senior year in high school. As you can imagine, the two sports are treated very differently at most colleges, with football getting the massive majority of funding and attention.

Jeremy Brazil Football

On one such visit, we’d just left 100 uniformed football players and a pyramid of cheerleaders on a sparkling green field to go out to dinner and discuss the D1 University as a possibility for our son. He stopped us before our cheeseburgers arrived saying, “I want to wrestle.”

Jeremy Brazil Wrestling

We cautioned him to really think about it. Football was so much more popular, there was no constant weight maintenance, the sport took less of a toll physically, etc. He just shook his head and said “I love playing in the football games, but the rest of it is boring to me. I love every second that I’m in a wrestling room.”

He’d found his people. He’d found his tribe.

I love every minute spent talking about books, reading books, talking about writing, reading someone’s writing, and actually writing.

Fiction does not come as naturally. I worry that I’m not creative enough, original enough. It scares me. I’m doing it anyway.

I’m working on the second draft of my first novel. I’ve read approximately 873,364 novels in my life. Writing a novel is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. But sitting with a pen and notebook and scribbling down made-up people in made up situations, and then having them come to life in my head, is alchemy.

Taking 20 pages of boring information dumps and exposition, and turning that into 10 pages of compelling scenes with characters that seem real makes me feel like I’ve figured something out.

When a free writing exercise turns into 500 words about a wedding gone bad on a Greek Isle, it’s the closest thing to real magic that I can think of.

The truth is, I enjoy getting a laugh out of friends and family, or seeing someone moved by the words I’ve placed on the page. One morning I checked my email and read a note from a woman in Saudi Arabia. No, she wasn’t asking for money for Prince George. She wrote to say she’d read an essay I’d written about my mother in a volume of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and it touched her. She wrote to say thanks.

I wish I had some altruistic motive: I write to provide fresh water for villagers in Rwanda or to ease suffering of the mentally ill. Mostly, I think I write to free up space in my head for new thoughts, new questions, new answers.  And seeing my name on a byline does satisfy the attention whore in me.

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