Sunday, June 21, 2015

A brief word about writing

Why do we write? Creatively, that is.

A fair question when re-starting a dormant blog.

But seriously, what is the motivation to capture thoughts, memories, observations and personal insights? To create new worlds and people from sheer imagination? Is it because we can, or for some of us, we have to?

Have to in the sense of that's how we make a living, or have to because we are driven to by some inner force of nature. I am one of those people who fall into both camps. It  manifested itself very early on -- who knows why -- and has never loosened its grip.

I have always loved to read. And write. Like they say about journalists, we have "ink in our blood."

Of course like anything, there are degrees of writing.

At one end of the spectrum, you have a blog like this. And on the other, William Shakespeare. That's a little more than six degrees of separation. In my hopelessly deluded youth, I aspired to be as good as old Will. His plays and sonnets were quite the role model for me. I even coerced my father into paying for a subscription to Writer's Digest, which fed my fires of fame and glory.

My first efforts were all pen on paper (just like Will, come to think of it). But that was not only tiring on the hand but as anyone who has experienced my handwriting will tell you, it's totally illegible. In fact, I should have been a doctor.

So I plotted and cajoled dear old Dad for a typewriter. And Dad came through again, obtaining a used Smith Corona from a local pawn shop for $35 (which ironically we were told used to belong to a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the paper I myself would be a editor/reporter for a decade later).

It was a manual model of course, and operated with a ink ribbon on a spool that had to be reversed and eventually replaced. But how exciting: My own typewriter! Now I felt like a real writer!

Just one thing: You have to learn to type. As a seventh grader, it wasn't offered as part of my junior high curriculum. So I would have to teach myself. Like many in the same boat, I settled on the "two finger" technique. Not particularly fast (although I could with the right focus hit 45-50 words a minute) or particularly accurate, but it worked. The biggest problem is once you have programmed yourself to type that way, it can almost never be unlearned. That's why I am typing this with two fingers.

Writing for the sake of writing can be a pure joy, or a major league frustration. "Writer's block" is always lurking, ready to pounce at any time. Whether it's a trash can filled with wads of paper, or staring blankly at a computer screen, it's pretty much the same. We wait for that spark of divine inspiration.

But when that "a-ha" moment hits, there's nothing quite like the rapturous feeling of unbridled creativity. Your fingers can't move fast enough; sentences form so fast they crowd your consciousness; words come alive with vivid adjectives and phrasing flowing from some hidden reservoir where all language resides.

In  many ways, you could say we live in a Golden Age of writing. Maybe not from a "quality" standpoint, but certainly from a "quantity" perspective. The advent of the computer and digital communications has indeed made everyone a publisher. Anyone with desire can launch a blog, or use social media, or create a website, or do all three and voila! They are a published writer.

And how about E-books? Amazon has led the way for talented authors to have their work out there and available without going through the traditional publishing gauntlet. I'm very proud to say my better half -- Pamela -- is among those published E-book authors, with a series of titles that include The Bainbridges of the Palm Beaches and Panama Palmer.

While we've never had a wider or more multi-faceted distribution network for the written word, there is another aspect of writing that has always bothered me. Namely, do all great writers have to suffer for their craft?

In my youth I poured over biographies of the great writers (the ones who qualify for leather-bound editions), and almost without exception they led lives of poverty, tragedy and adversity (but isn't that also true for most highly creative types -- artists, poets, musicians, etc.). There were suicides, abusive relatives, exile, drugs and more misfortune heaped upon them than a character in a Dickens novel.

I've always heard the best writers write from experience. Maybe the deeper and more painful the experience, the more insightful and affecting the narrative. That's a high price to pay for greatness.

And what is "greatness" anyway? Most truly great writing has to stand the test of time, passing muster by several generations of scholars and scholarly purview. I would hate to suffer all that adversity and fall short.

So, getting back to where we started: Why do we write? Or more specifically, who do I write?

Here are a few reasons:

  • To share. I'll give you my perspective; let's hear yours.
  • To entertain. Humor is our friend; sometimes our best friend.
  • To inform. Stick around; you may learn something,
  • To improve. The best way to be a better writer is write.
Lastly, and most important, I couldn't not write if I tried. It's how to make sense of a nonsensical world. Or a way to pause and admire something of its beauty. And in some cases, offer a well-needed escape from reality.

But that begs the question, what exactly is "reality"? We'll save that one for another blog.

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