WHY DO YOU WRITE?
July 9, 2014: ON WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION
This fall at the University of South Alabama, I will be teaching a course on Creative Nonfiction. I thought I would share this process – and ask if you would like to join in – and perhaps “soothe the voices shouting inside me, outside me, all around.”
Indeed, what text? How to choose? I think I will start with Writing Creative Nonfiction – edited by Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard – though I shall dip into other texts from time to time.
One of my favorite essays of all time is “Why I Write,” by Terry Tempest Williams. (See: http://www.coyoteclan.com/) It often amazes me that readers bypass the author – as if who is writing is somehow a separate thing – for the article / poem / story being read. Terry Tempest is an ecological writing – and the sense of place is important to her.
Can’t you – in your mind’s eye – see your childhood bedroom with absolute fidelity? Can you see where the dresser was – maybe beside the window where you can see not only yourself in the mirror, but the monkey puzzle tree just outside? Can you see the bed you slept in? The closet with two rows of shelves?
I note that Terry Tempest Williams begins by situating herself in time. “It is just after 4:00 a.m.,” she says. “I was dreaming about Moab, Brook and I walking around the block just before dawn.” . . .
Here is the essay: http://rvannoy.asp.radford.edu/rvn/312/whyiwrite.pdf
You will note the repetition of the words “I write . . . “ pushing the essay forward: “I write to make peace with the things I cannot control.” And so forth . . . . This repetition is called anaphora – a rhetorical device that repeats a series of words usually at the beginning of a piece. If I count correctly, Williams says / writes the words: “I write” some 74 times in just two pages.
I ask myself this June morning why I write? What is it I want for my writing? No, Williams does not ask that. She does not say she writes to be published. She does not say she writes to be famous, to make money . . . . She even says that she writes “because it is dangerous, a blood risk, like love . . .
I had a professor at Tulane who had a stamp that said “Bull . . . . “ – and he would use it to indicate his thoughts about what a student wrote. Whoa! That gets a student’s attention.
So I want to turn the question “Why I Write” on his head and ask: “Why don’t I write? In a way, this is a lot easier to answer. I don’t write because I think I’m not good at it. I don’t write because I don’t want to appear stupid. I don’t write because I could never be as good as my friend Pat. I don’t write because I’m too busy and I don’t have time.
So, let’s begin. Tell me: Why do you write – or conversely “why don’t you write? I mean other than a grocery list or a check to your dentist.
And do you keep a journal? I bet you don’t know what you were doing on July 9 last year?
Terry Tempest Williams says: “I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.”
Tell me: Why do you / why don’t you write?