really, honestly, why I write

People are always asking two questions: how I write, and why I write. If you replace ‘write’ with another profession, it becomes clear how odd a question it is. “How do you do surgery? Why do you do surgery?” “How do you cut hair? Why do you cut hair?”

The first question is about process, which can be answered if somebody really is interested in the mechanics. I can talk about my close relationship to my powerbook laptop, the green chair in the front room where I write best these days, the fact that I need certain blankets and pillows and other crucial implements, like a glass of ice and a can of Diet Barqs rootbeer. That I work best when one dog is on my legs but things get distracting when both of them decide they belong on the green chair with me. I could go on with these details. Some people seem to really be interested, because the process seems to them a little magical.

Then I could talk about the mind games I have to play to get myself to sit down and get started every day. How just at that moment when the green chair seems the only choice, I notice that the bathroom sink needs cleaning, or the dogs need cuddling, or I remember that I haven’t checked email in, oh, five minutes. That’s all part of the process, too. Of the thousands of quotes about writing my favorite still remains: “Writing is easy. You sit down at the typewriter and open up a vein.” (I don’t know who said this, but I like this person.)

The harder question is why I write. Every successful (in critical or commmercial terms) writer gets asked this, sooner or later. The clever answers are legion, but I think the one that probably comes closest to a home truth is: because I can.

In general people do that thing that combines the greatest amount of ease and personal comfort with the greatest degree of reward. I can tell stories, and so I do.

Like every writer, I worry that tomorrow I’ll find that I can’t anymore. I’ll sit down in the green chair and look at the words on the page and realize that it’s over, I’m done. Sometimes I look at the job listings in the paper and think what it would be like to be a legal secretary, as I was once, in the two year long break I took in my undergraduate education. I could pursue a lifelong fascination: I could learn to be a ward clerk in a hospital. Don’t ask, because I can’t explain the appeal, just that it’s a constant in my life. An organized day, a start time and (most important) a stopping time. An evening where I don’t feel guilty because I haven’t done enough.

For me, one of the great motivators is a book contract and the deadlines that go along with it. Maybe it’s my Catholic school background, but I can’t stand the idea of not fulfilling a contract, of being late or handing over something awful. Right now I have three novels under contract, and even putting that idea down in words is enough to make me jittery. The green chair beckons.

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