Like Charli, I have no single explanation for why I write. I am not one of those writers who feels internally compelled to write, as if it’s as necessary to me as eating or breathing. For a long time – fifteen years, in fact – I didn’t write at all, unless it was for school or work. I’ll never know the reason why I stopped – I simply lost the creative impulse, I suppose – but I do know why, two and a half years ago now, I started again.
A few years back, I found myself with an inexplicable yet incredibly powerful attraction to a married man. I suppose it's quite common at my age, because by the time you get to be my age, most men and women of your acquaintance are married. I was, of course, painfully aware that nothing could ever come of it, and naturally I never had any intention of trying to make anything come of it, either. Except in my mind.
Yet the attraction persisted. And what was more, in spite of the impossibility of the situation, I found, to my surprise, that I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed thinking about it, I enjoyed considering the possible scenarios, I enjoyed the idea of it probably as much or more than I would have enjoyed actually doing it. And one day it occurred to me that instead of wasting my time with idle fantasies – because I am at heart a New Englander, and it goes against my nature to engage in activities that are unproductive – that perhaps I should try to write them down. Perhaps, I thought, it might be entertaining to tell our story, the way it would happen, if it ever could happen.
What would happen? I wondered. How would that actually pan out, if he and I got together? What would it be like if we had an affair? Not just the sexy parts, although those were important, too, but the nitty-gritty everyday details of it. How would it begin? Where would we meet? How would we cover it up? Would our relationship be about sex or love or something in between? What would happen when the passion fizzled, as it inevitably must? What if there were an emergency when we were together? How would it finally end?
These were all interesting questions that were well worth exploring. Nonetheless, I didn't intend for the idea to grow and emerge the way it did. I saw it is merely an exercise, not as My Life with Michael, the 110,000-word novel that it eventually became. But somehow in the course of writing that novel, I felt as if I’d had that affair. I had been with this man, from the crude beginnings of our forbidden courtship through our bittersweet parting some four years later. I no longer wondered what it would be like to be with him. In my imagination, I already had been.
Possibilities began to open in my mind. I didn’t only have to write about my own personal secret wishes and fantasies. There were many fascinating scenarios to explore; many non-traditional relationships rife with their own potential for comedy and drama. I began another book, Just the Three of Us, a very funny and surprisingly sentimental romance involving three friends who somehow find themselves in a three-way love relationship.
How I loved writing that book! How deeply I submerged myself in that story, in the humor and unlikelihood of it; how well I got to know those imaginary characters, even the main one, who is startlingly similar to me. How protective I became of my time on the roof in the sunshine with my laptop; how cranky I’d become when stupid, meaningless irritations like work took time away from my sun and my writing. How much my life revolved around that book while I was writing it; how easy it was to center my world around those three people and their problems, which were amusing, instead of around me and mine, which were not.
Yet I didn't know then what was happening to me. I couldn't have guessed that my need to sit quietly for long hours in the sun was about more than a desire to write, about putting my feelings and fears and fantasies down where I could read them. I couldn't have known then that within two years, there wouldn't be much else that I could do without pain. I couldn't have suspected that whatever undiagnosed form of arthritis – most likely rheumatoid – that I've got would have debilitated me to the extent that it has; that it would have reduced me to trying to squeeze in just a few more months of travel before I'm unable to do things like hike or drive. As often as I had daydreamed about leaving my jobs, I never could have dreamed that I would be forced to leave them, that I would be unable to perform simple tasks like shuffling papers around on my desk without pain. I couldn't have imagined that writing would become not merely a source of comfort and solace, but my only source of comfort and solace. I couldn't have anticipated that the fantasy life I was living in my books would become more precious to me than my real life, that it would become virtually the only means I had of truly living.
It was fortunate that we found each other again when we did, writing and I. Because before I got sick, I could have imagined a life without it. I had a life without it. Perhaps some part of me knew that that was about to change. Perhaps subconsciously I guessed that something was wrong, that soon I would need something to occupy the new wide-open spaces in my once-active life, that soon I would have a compelling reason to write. It is rather a funny coincidence, at that. Every once in a while I suppose we do get what we need, when we need it.
At times the course of my life has felt like traversing the Badlands of South Dakota. Every time I manage to fight my way over one rough, craggy peak, another looms larger before me, more ominous and treacherous than the last. They aren’t obstacles in my path. They are my path.
Writing cannot smooth the way for me. It can't solve my problems, or reverse the progress of my illness, or alleviate the physical pain that is, at times, nearly all-consuming. But it does make it easier to bear. It does make it possible for me to forget it for a while. It does let me pretend that little has changed for me, apart from the normal changes that come with aging. It lets me dream of a world in which my problems are larger than my hip waking me in the middle of the night or not being able to hold a pint glass that's full of beer. My characters have fun, happy problems – about sexual desire, about getting older, about finding love and keeping it alive. My novels give me dilemmas I can manage and resolve, not the absurd yet constant difficulties that pervade my life now, like how many days it’s going to take my joints to recover from a hour’s walk, or how many trips I must make up to the roof to get all of my stuff up there so that I can write.
Writing is like a gift to me now. It gives me another life, an alternate reality, a world in which I can do and be anything I want to do and be, a world in which I have no limitations except those of my own imagination. In a time in which I’m struggling to accept the me that I now am and one day will be, it is the last remnant of the me I used to be, of the me I always thought I could and would be.
Why do I write? Because writing is all I have left.
No, I take that back.
It's what I have left.
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Please be sure to visit the following three lovely authors, each of whom will be posting their own "Why I Write" essays within the next few weeks:
Hi! I’m Brianna Soloski and I’m an English writing graduate student, focusing on editing and publishing. I’m an avid reader and writer and have self-published a few things on Amazon. I have a BA in Humanities and an MA in Teaching from Sierra Nevada College. When I’m not writing or working or going to class, I can be found with my Kindle in hand. I also love spending time with friend and traveling. I run a freelance business and am the editorial assistant of DAVID Magazine, a Las Vegas city lifestyle magazine. Blog | Facebook Author Page | Facebook Personal Page | Twitter
Penny Wilson is a writer whose skills span fiction, mysteries and poetry. While juggling her career in Fort Worth, Texas with family and friends, she tirelessly devotes time each day to her true passion…writing. Having spent her youth in a transient family, Penny believes that her many unusual experiences, including meeting people from a variety of backgrounds and environments, have helped to shape her outlook on life. These experiences continue to enhance her writing, creating characters that readers can connect with in her stories and poetry. Penny is currently working on three books: a fictional story based on fact about American migrant workers in the 1950's and 1960's, a fairy tale that will appeal to the tween set, and a fictional adventure/mystery that will soon be completed. Penny’s blog, http://pennylanethoughts.wordpress.com/, has a number of loyal followers and explores her childhood memories, poetry, and other topics.
Paige Adams Strickland, a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is married with two daughters. Her first book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, is about growing up in the 1960s-80s (Baby-Scoop Era) and searching for her first identity. It is also the story of her adoptive family and in particular her father’s struggles to figure out his place in the world while Paige strives to find hers. After hours she enjoys family and friends, pets, reading, Zumba ™ Fitness, gardening and baseball.