Why Do You Write?

Sometimes it takes a swift kick to get me moving again, and I can thank my friend Tasha over at Metacookbook for the boot to the backside this time. She’s taken on a challenge to write a post about writing, and I am going to follow her lead.

Why do I write? I write to get thoughts out of my head before they crumble. I write to inform, to rant, to record my family’s story. I write on this public blog, so I guess I write for recognition and attention, too. Look at me! Are you looking at me yet???!?!? Lately, I even write a little for money, and that’s kind of neat.

But it’s harder to explain why I don’t write. Because there are so many excuses.

My writing is an urge. An instinct. If you give a bird a string, she’s going to stuff it into a nest. It’s what birds are programmed to do with string. I’m the same with a good pen. When I hold a pen, I want to write with it, and if I don’t have anything TO write, I get anxious and uncomfortable. I feel like I should be writing, and I get mad at myself when I’m not. But I’m not good at managing my time (hello, parenting and full-time job), and I’m also weirdly hard on myself about what I write. It’s like I’m not allowed to write something until it’s all figured out, but I can’t usually figure something out properly until I can separate it from the hundred other things going through my head and pin it to a page. And if I wait too long for the thought to mature and straighten itself out, sometimes it fades away. I don’t know how many wonderful ideas I’ve lost to my perfectionism. It hurts to think about.

Like Tasha did (and, I suspect, like most others who write), I used to journal. But I wasn’t good enough at it. I’d judge myself for skipping too many days, and it felt odd to come back and have to explain to my journal or to my imagined future readers what had happened during my absence. “Dear journal: previously, on LOST…” I couldn’t commit. I felt like I had to catch up on every missed day, and the longer I waited to go back, the bigger the void. And then, of course, once I did go back, I had to start a new notebook from scratch. Because this one would be better. This one wouldn’t have any gaps. Except of course it did, because of life. Life is busy. Life doesn’t leave me time to write. I know I need to make time. Prioritize. But it’s hard.

I almost made writing my life. Every career aptitude test I ever took split me exactly down the middle, halfway between writing and science. I’ve always loved science, but I’ve also always been a “good” writer. Lots of gold stars on writing assignments, from stories to essays to poetry. Teachers told me I had a gift, and that kind of thing can get into your head and make you feel like you need to pursue it, or risk “wasting” the gift. I thought for a while I’d go into journalism, because journalism meant writing, and because I felt more personally attracted to writing as communication than as creativity. I’d be a reporter on a science beat, not a novelist or playwright. I even checked out an open house at a journalism program at one of the colleges in Montreal when it was getting close to application time. But after considering my options, it made more sense for me to pursue science as a primary career. I couldn’t teach myself about the lab, but I could probably improve my writing skills on my own eventually. Given what I’m seeing happening to the newspaper industry and the media as a whole, I think I made the right call. Except that I’m not writing enough, and I feel like I’m missing something.

I have thoughts bouncing through my head all day, every day, and when it gets overwhelming it can sometimes make me literally lightheaded. Like I’m carrying a huge balloon full of half-formed ideas instead of a head. But there’s only so much room in there for ideas, and new ones sometimes squish old ones before I’ve given them a chance. Or the thing I was going to yell about isn’t in the news anymore. Or my baby’s zoomed past a year and I never wrote a post to celebrate it and it’s too late now. All that makes me sad.

I’m not going to end this with a promise that I’m going to write more, because I don’t know if that’s a promise I can keep. But I want to promise it. I don’t want to keep starting new notebooks. I want to learn to accept the gaps and the disorganized mess of half-formed ideas without a real point. I’m happier when I write, and I like to think that sometimes another person somewhere is happier when I do, too.

And I just have so much to SAY.

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