Or so the song goes. In the case of my latest read, Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life by Bret Lott, the question is, more specifically, “Why Do We Write, Anyway?” That’s the title of a chapter that concludes with this (p. 42-3):
I write because I care about the characters I see in my head, care to follow them to their true endings, despite my misgivings about myself, my own ignorance and inabilities, my own vague stabs at trying to limn their paths with the dim light of my imagination. Even in the midst of these falterings — and perhaps in a way because of them — I care, and in this caring find that available joy, writing. And in the surrendering of myself to those characters and by extension to that care, I have found it easier to give up the cares that lead nowhere; the debris of the publishing world and all its attendant miseries and triumphs of the ego.
I have written this down because I am here to write. And once I have written, I want to publish, and this is the way things ought to be: you have a story, and you want it to be heard.
But do not believe that the hearing of it is the end. Do not believe the hearing of it will be the central monument to your life. Do not believe the hearing of it will bring you a kind of joy that has eluded you all your life. It is certainly its own reward, the hearing of your story, but it is the joy of having written that story — the easing back from the pages in your hand to look up from them to the same old world around you only to see that same old world newly because of those pages in your hand — this is its end, writing.
Tonight, I have, through my dedication to writing, found myself in a hotel room ninety miles from my lively family. I am sitting in silence (yes!) in my pajamas (ahh!), a plastic glass next to me filled with diet cola and hotel ice cubes (gotta love those) and three boxes of books close by waiting for an autograph. And in this moment, I see clearly that there is more than one way to answer the question, why do I write. But one of them is in my face in a particular way tonight.
Certainly, I write for more than the chance to sneak away from my family and hang out in the beautiful solitude of a hotel room. (I’d hazard to guess I wouldn’t like it nearly as much if I had to do it more frequently, or didn’t have a noisy family to return to). But one of the unexpected joys of having been published is the chance to connect, face to face, with readers. And when those readers are children whose lives have just begun to unfold, and whose futures are limitless possibilities, it is an especially wonderful gift to me, as a writer, to share my love of the written word with them. So, tomorrow, after my preparations have been completed and after (hopefully) a good night’s rest, I will rise and collect my props and drive an hour to another town, where I will share what I’ve learned with those eager to hear it, and I will be invigorated both by what I share and what comes back in turn. I will come back exhilarated and exhausted, and I will have met head on yet another reason why I write; what it’s all about.
Because Mr. Lott is right, you know. There is much more to this journey than achieving publication. To me, the end is the satisfaction of having walked this particular journey consistently enough to actually bring what little I have to offer to others; to divulge enough of myself and my story that others might come away feeling like they have changed for the better, even if just a small bit, in that encounter. There’s no doubt that I will have changed, just as the writer who looks up from her written pages and out the window and sees the leaves shimmering more brilliantly than usual.
As lovely as that all sounds, and as true as it is, I have to share one more little story before turning away for the night. On the way out of town today, the sun was shining gloriously and I was loving life, cruising west on I-94 all by myself, nobody in the back seat to settle, no sibling eruptions in the second or third rows. It was all good. But as I pulled into town an hour and a half later, the cell phone rang. My son’s ride for the soccer game had not shown. So, as I was readying to meet the author visit coordinator, instead of bringing my luggage into the hotel right away, I sat in my van, cell phone attached to my ear, trying to get in touch with my son’s ride so he wouldn’t miss his game up at Pepsi Soccer Field.
And that is how my author visit really began — making sure everything was okay back home. It’s certainly hard to get away when you’re a mom.
Ten minutes later, after about six phone calls, another one came in from a man with a Colombian accent: “I’ve got your son.” It was one of the parents of my son’s teammates who had doubled-back to retrieve my kid. If I hadn’t been in on the earlier calls, I might have thought my son were being kidnapped. Truly, I am so very thankful for those who help me out in such times, even if there was a slight miscommunication. The heart was there.
Alright. Everyone is in their place now, it appears. And so I will move into this world for a while.