Why I Write

Recently, my writing has been feeling like a snail.  Photo by Pamela Crane
Recently, my writing has been feeling like a snail.
Photo by Pamela Crane

“I write for the love of ideas. I write for the surprise of a sentence. I write with the belief of alchemists. I write knowing I will always fail. I write knowing words always fall short. I write knowing I can be killed by my own words, stabbed by syntax, crucified by both understanding and misunderstanding. I write out of ignorance. I write by accident. I write past the embarrassment of exposure. I keep writing and suddenly, I am overcome by the sheer indulgence, (the madness,) the meaninglessness, the ridiculousness of this list. […] I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient. I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.”
-Terry Tempest Williams

Whenever I read Terry Tempest Williams’s short essay “Why I Write,” I am struck, pounded, and pummeled by her sentences. This excerpt is the ending, and represents only about a quarter of her list. Each listed sentence is simple, but together the sentences reveal the profound complexity of the motivation to write.

I used to have a much clearer understanding of why I write. In high school, for example, I wrote because I loved to do it. I loved filling a page with ink. I loved burning a vanilla scented candle in my room while typing away on an old word processor that had two colors: blue and white. I loved inventing worlds and stories.

As a high schooler, I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, and I met Annie Dillard and devoured Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I discovered writing is spiritual.

In college I somehow lost creative writing but wrote out my prayers on a lengthy basis. I began to recognize writing as a spiritual practice and writing as something that God had given me.

Post-college, I taught middle school grammar and learned how to put sentences together. I learned verb tense consistency and the importance of parallel structure by teaching it. I made every career decision based on one obvious question: What was God calling me to do? And one secret question: Would it give me more time to write?

None of the jobs ever gave me more time to write, so I appealed to an MFA program. I learned the craft of nonfiction. I learned how to read like a writer and how to imitate. I learned how to understand the nonfiction book market. I learned how to think like a crafter, but not as an artist. I also lost the practice of spiritual writing.

Since the MFA, I’ve spent three years teaching writing. I haven’t really thought about my relationship to writing, other than shamefully acknowledging that I’ve forgotten the practice of journaling. In class, my most important lesson is teaching my students to use writing to help them think.

As I’m writing this blogpost, I’m letting my syntax surprise me, letting it help me figure out what I think. There’s some sadness and loss and regret in my writing tale. I used the word “lost” in regards to the practice of spiritual writing — as if the act of learning the craft of writing is not, in some way, also spiritual. I used the word “shamefully” in regards to not journaling, without realizing that my life is very full right now and journaling hasn’t been a psychological necessity. These changes are okay. My practice of writing has evolved since high school, when writing felt luscious and special and spiritual. That doesn’t mean it is now any less special or spiritual or luscious.

Right now, I’m writing a book. Why?

I write about the combo of yoga and Christianity because I believe their combo is powerful and beautiful and the stories of the foremost Christians practicing yoga need  to be told. 

I write because I believe the act of writing is something God has created me to do.

I write because I can — because I have a temporary job that gives me the summer to write and if I don’t try to write a book now, I never will.

I write because I want to prove to myself that I can do it.

I write because I like it.

I write because I need to publish in order to move up a tier in the academic world.

I write because I’m happier after writing 750 words.

I write because it creates.

I write because I like linking thoughts together on the page.

I write because I like typing; it’s similar to playing the piano except I don’t have to keep tempo.

I write because I once had a job that did not require typing anything and I volunteered to do budget stuff (which I hate) just so that I could enter numbers into the computer (which was like typing).

I write because I’m extroverted in an introverted way.

I write because I like sentences — the way they can wind, or not wind, or the way you can add a conjunction and a whole new sentence and technically not make it a run-on.

I write because I had three awesome high school English teachers and one science teacher who pushed bellows of air into my love of reading and encouraged my writing even though I notoriously wrote them run-on sentences.

I write because I love nothing better than to sit down with a good book.

I write because books got me through a lot of dark years, will probably get me through some dark years ahead, and I can’t think of anything more amazing than for my book to maybe someday be a good friend to someone else in a dark year.

I write because someone once told me she hopes heaven has a spot where she can see what I create with my imagination.

Right now, though, I think my desire to write is most like the desire to do a handstand: because the pose is almost there and if I just tone the muscles a little bit more and practice a little bit more, I will get those toes all the way up and finish the chapter.

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