Tag Archives: why we write

Let Us Taste The Ice Cream

I didn’t often listen to my mother’s writing advice growing up. She was full of it, too. Jamming my eardrums with steps for five-paragraph essays (which I still loathe) and red-penning the crap out of my school papers.

She made time, almost every year, for a visit to my English class where she would, inevitably, tell me later that night over dinner that that boy over in the back corner? He seemed nice.

So I tuned most of her lessons out.

Except, it turns out, one of the most important ones: to write like I spoke.

Doesn’t it suck when Mom knows best?

Maybe, but it’s the reason I’ve been able to craft a place for myself in the blogging world. And the reason I latch onto other bloggers whose hearts beat faster when they hit publish on a new post.

We were not born to write so that our words could fill trashcans. We were not born to kill trees or waste ink or stuff envelopes with empty thoughts.

We write because we are human beings with voices and those voices sit inside us like dormant volcanoes ready to erupt when something strikes us passionately or fervently.

It’s that lack of selfness, that manufactured voice, that pains me when I read a blog post or a magazine article written with so little personality it nearly fades into the background.

You’re a blogger; you understand.

We fear voice because it is vulnerability in the biggest way. We fear having our fingers on the pulse of our wrists because the minute we know what we want to say and how we want to say it? We have to.

To write well, you’ve got to have at least an ounce of reckless abandon in you. You’ve got to let go of the constraints a bit. You’ve got to stop forcing square phrases and overused idioms into your paragraphs and start feeling exactly what you want your reader to feel.

You’ve got to leave a chunk of your heart on the page.

you've got to leave a chunk of your heart on the page

It’s a massive risk; I get that.

It’s like calling your best friend to tell her your boyfriend didn’t get into the same college as you and she’s like, “Suck it up, man. Life’s tough.”

(She’s allowed to say that eventually, but not in between your heaving sobs.)

Or she said, “Cool, so what do you think of this dress? Should I buy it?”

You don’t know how your readers will react — or if they’ll react at all.

So you totter along writing “dear diary” entries about the ice cream shop you discovered last Friday night and the boy in anatomy class you’d like to offer your body to demonstrate.

But you don’t let us taste the ice cream on our lips. We don’t get a brain freeze. Our fingers don’t go numb. Our heart rate doesn’t increase.

That’s all we want from you — to feel your humanness so deeply it yanks us into a time where sitting in front of a computer is akin to opening an encapsulating novel.

Gosh, we want to dream with you.

Let us? Please, please let us. We will become insomniacs for you.

Things have changed since you cracked my spine and settled into your beanbag chair.

This life is a book I can’t put down.

But half my readers would rather skip the part that says, “God is good,” and head straight for “The Downfall.”

In fact, they’d probably shake my by my shoulders and say there simply isn’t enough controversy in these pages to warrant any sales. To warrant a life worth living.

And I would spin them around, nudge them toward Self Help & Addiction and Jodi Picoult’s moral dilemmas and tell them they’ve come to the wrong spot in the bookstore, baby.

Because we itch our stocking and the backs of our necks when someone starts throwing words like Newness and Next Chapter around like they are good. Like progress is a problem.

The only problem is I can’t please you all.

My life isn’t a bookstore. It’s just one book in the Coming of Age section.

I am just a girl learning how to sign up for a health care plan and stock her own pantry and live in an apartment alone for the first time since you cracked my spine and settled into your beanbag chair.

And must I remind you that was twenty-two years ago? That the books we loved then are not the same as now?

It’s true that we get giddy about new chapters, but we all have different expectations for them.

She wants me to stay rooted in the Somewhere Safe she knows well, would rather I stretch to a 600-pager. I am ready to wrap this chapter up and Epilogue that sucker.

Start a new book that begins, “And then she learned how to live alone…”

Because I will. And it will not be your story. Or your mother’s. Or your best friend’s. Or your hairdressers. It will be mine. Just for me.

Maybe that sounds selfish. Us writers, we scribble stories stuck inside our heads. We are gray-seers and world-dwellers. We are so ready to scramble into the back of someone else’s car and land out butts in Charleston, South Carolina because something told us we should Begin Again.

I’m not asking you to pick me up in the middle of Chapter 22 and fall in love.

I’m just asking that someone, somewhere, have faith that I know what I’m writing today and tomorrow but in ten years? No, no no. That is for ten years from now to worry about.

We envision endings and Life Happens and a couple people read on to find out if that picture stays the same, if we learn how to not burn our grilled cheese or overflow the toilet. If we stock clogging the vacuum and if we always look like a mess when it rains all day.

But we cannot please the world. And if we could, what kind of life would that be? 

Making Someone Else's Mistakes

The other day, I spent some time thinking about why I want to write. Because when you tell yourself you’re going to spend months, usually years, on one silly little book, one bound collection of papers, you need to know what you’re doing has some purpose. Some meaning for you. And I’m not just saying that because people are selfish, because we tend to do something for someone only if we’re going to reap the benefits. I’m saying it because it’s true. Because when it gets hard, and you’re thinking of throwing in the towel, you want to have a moment to remind yourself. You need to have your own pep talk. Everyone needs one. Even the most determined of writers need one.

For me, I have to get those words down on the page because as I write them, as the thoughts form, I hear my own voice shouting back at me. And it’s saying, “Yes. Finally, you understand what it means to be a teenager.”

It’s more than that, though. I hope my books can teach people lessons, because that’s important. You can’t make all the mistakes in the world. Sometimes you have to learn from what other people did wrong. For instance, the main character in my newest book keeps going back to her boyfriend, despite the disapproval of her parents and her best friend. Sure, that tells you something wonderful about the girl: she’s forgiving and loyal, but to a fault. Maybe you’re not that kind of girl, but your best friend is, and after reading the book, you can help her because you feel like you’ve been inside this girl’s head. Even if you don’t agree with her logic, at least you’re starting to understand it, right?

That’s all we want in life. Someone to understand us and still love us. I hope my books can make people see that.