Veil of Words

Susan Mihalic

Susan Mihalic
Birthday
August 05
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Writer & editor. Passionate about freedom of expression. Liberal, aspiring to be pointy-headed. Follow me on Twitter: @susanmihalic.

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JULY 24, 2010 6:17PM

Why I Write

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The question came up in my writers’ group today: “Why do you write?” 

I’ve never given much thought to the why of it. Writing comes as naturally to me as breathing or blinking.

When I was five, I wrote my first story in pencil on loose-leaf notebook paper that my mother then put in a three-ring binder. Presto—a hardback book. I asked for a spiral-bound notebook and meticulously copied the story into it. Presto—a paperback book. I remember asking my mother, “Is this how they do it?” because if copying books letter by letter into various hardback and paperback forms was how one created an inventory, I was not destined to be a writer. She explained that books were made on printing presses. I decided then that writing was for me, and I’ve never stopped working at it.

The minister who was missing a sock at my nephew’s memorial service . . . the thin, watery sweat on the coat of a beloved horse who had colicked and had to be put down . . . the inch-thick makeup worn by an old classmate . . . an unpleasant phrase I overheard that made me think, That sounds like something one of my characters would say (not a particularly likeable character, mind you) . . . the details of life happening to and around me all find a home in my writing. Usually, the most pivotal events in my manuscripts never happened to me—but the emotions did. That’s how I know that what my characters feel is true.

That doesn’t really explain why I write. People observe and feel things all the time without needing to write about them. Maybe the question isn’t “Why do you write,” but “Why do you need to write?”

Years ago, I ran an art workshop school, and twice I was the driver for a week-long photography workshop. The instructor, six students, and I traveled all over the Four Corners area. I enjoy photography and have an eye for light and composition, so the first year, I made as many photos as the students did. On reflection, it occurred to me that capturing the image had taken precedence over experiencing the place. That was fine for the students—it was a photography class, after all—but the second year, I decided not to take a camera.

Instead, I took a journal, and while the instructor and students made photos, I wrote. Other people may find that the camera is a way into an experience, but I hide behind the lens. A camera sets me a little apart, allowing me not to engage fully with people, places, or even myself. I still enjoy photography—but words are my way in. I need to write because it’s how I figure things out, how I make sense of events and experiences.

Words are how I think, how I see, how I understand. For others, a picture may be worth a thousand words—but give me those thousand words. I need every one of them.

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I'm interested in knowing why other people write (or need to write). So . . . why do you?
Ironically, I can't put it into words.
Because I must. Because it helps me to see that which is inside my brain on a page.
Need: yes. rated for so soundly resonating
Amanda, I actually found it a little hard to express, too.

Kathy, I agree--writing is a must.

Jonathan, thank you--and I'm glad it resonates!
Oh, I understand the feeling of needing the 1,000 words. Recently I posted something on OS with mainly photos I had taken. I was very pleased with the photographs. But the words were still begging to be written._r
Joan H., I was thinking the other day about Dorothea Lang's Depression Era photos and how powerful they are, and they do tell a story . . . but I still need the words.

kate, go read Greg Correll's post: http://open.salon.com/blog/greg_correll/2010/07/24/sour_fate I am humbled by it.
I write to document my thoughts. I rarely write fiction, but feel the need to connect with others. Oddly enough I wrote my first "book" at age 12 because I knew I could do it.

It's interesting to see the answers!
R
Once it is on paper (or a text document in the computer), the ideas stop interfering with the brain synapses. I know where to find them again. And I do make back-up copies.

Interesting post, Susan!
I write to quiet the thoughts that haunt me.
That's a very important question, and one we don't think about enough. I write to entertain others. If I was writing for myself, I'd keep a diary. (Although I do enjoy reading the "diary" entries of other writers, A LOT...I can't seem to go there very often. The times I have written from that place, I've felt uncomfortable and exposed.)
Hell if I know!! But I do love reading yours. :-)
jane, I think you do have a niche--the essays you write on OS.

Buffy, I like seeing other people's answers to this question, too.

Catherine, thank you. I don't know if you learned the "always make a backup" lesson the hard way . . . but I did.

Chuck, that's a lovely response.

tom, it's interesting to suppose why other people write--but why do you write?

Bellwether, you make a good point. I was thinking the other day about what I want to accomplish with my manuscript (now in final revisions), and my first thought was, "I want to give people a good read."

Bob, thank you!
Thanks, Bonnie. I shield myself with my camera, but words strip away the shield. They force me to be honest and present. It's painful at times, but I couldn't write any other way.
You certainly do love words and you know how to use them to describe them beautifully. rated.
I've come to the conclusion that I don't write "it", "it" writes me. But I've gotten much better at editing it down.... ;)
Caroline, thanks.

cartouche, someone said, "All writing is rewriting." Yep.
It's an addiction problem. :) And don't worry; Tom hates me particularly, an so far I have managed not to care even a tiny bit.......
Ann, then I consider myself in excellent company. Thanks!
I write with the intent to turn on women, or make them blush.
Wow, this is dead-on for me (because I like photography as well):

"Other people may find that the camera is a way into an experience, but I hide behind the lens. A camera sets me a little apart, allowing me not to engage fully with people, places, or even myself. I still enjoy photography—but words are my way in. I need to write because it’s how I figure things out, how I make sense of events and experiences"

I hope you don't mind me stealing it when this question is asked in MY writing class! Ha...shhh...our secret.
Excellent. Yes, writing is more than an expressive act. It demands reflection, organization, imagination, and analysis. In other words --thinking. Well done, Susan.
Wonderful post Susan. the writing is so crisp and clear. I hope to achieve that some day, but for now I have to get some baggage out of my scribblings....Here's why for me.
fetboy, that's as good a reason as any.

Beth, you are welcome to it.

Steve, thank you.

Gary, baggage often makes good material. I'm heading to your link right now.
Always a good question, Susan! I write in order to play, but also to think better; to distill thoughts, give them some shape and a voice, and to hold them up to a little bit of rigor. 98% of what I write is never read by anyone -- but I read it and, having written it, I get at least two shots at focussing my mind.
I write for three reasons:
1. To cringe at what I wrote a few years back (This being how I judge my growth as a person).
2. To make people laugh.
3. It's a great way to prevent dementia.

I remember writing an essay in my writing class in which I proposed that people who wrote belonged to a new species in the Homo genus: Hopo sapiens scribens (scribens means writing in Latin).
Pranay, good reasons all. I like your suggestion, too: Homo sapiens scribens. You should write a post about it. . . .
Probably everyone writing on Open Salon relates to your entry. To be is to write. I write, therefore I am. Writing is life.
Janelle, thanks. I read a quote somewhere--don't remember who said it--something like, "People say life is the thing, but I prefer writing." I like your version better: Writing is life.