So, as promised, I’m trying to blog at least once per day as THE SECOND SPY’s release date (July 5 – Have I repeated that enough yet?) approaches. Consider this one giant, wordy drumroll.
I am neither very good nor very comfortable with talking about myself. When someone gives me a big, open-ended prompt like, ‘Tell me about your books,’ or ‘Give us some stories about you,’ I begin to fold over and curl in on myself, as though I am trying to climb face-first into my shoes. Therefore, for this series of rapid-fire entries, I am going to use the help of others by answering the questions that I am most frequently asked when I speak at schools, libraries, conferences, and bookstores.
And, at the end of each week, I’ll give a visual clue about what is to come in THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME THREE: THE SECOND SPY.
Let’s start with what may be the biggest question of all:
Why do you write?
All sorts of poetic, crazy, wonderful answers have been given to this question by all sorts of poetic, crazy, and wonderful people, but if you boil them down, it seems to me that all writers’ answers are variations on these three simple ones: 1. Because I want to. 2. Because I need to. 3. Because I’m good at it.
George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” I guess that falls into the need category. (Also: Ouch.) Here’s how Ray Bradbury put it: “If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both – you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” I suppose that’s a combination of need and want. (I love you, Ray Bradbury.) Anne Sexton–one of my favorite poets–said, “When I am writing, I am doing the thing I was meant to do,” which sounds to me like all three. Flannery O’Connor said, ‘Because I’m good at it.’ (Of course, she was Flannery O’Connor, and she could say things like that.)
We actually discussed this question over lunch one day during the Endangered Authors tour, and I blathered something about writing being the lens through which I see the world. It’s the way I take in and transform everything around me and within me: All the memories, emotions, daydreams, questions, the images that I know will fade. Changing these floating, fragile things into written words is the most exciting, most challenging, most absorbing thing I’ve ever done. (Adam called it ‘reifying the ineffable,’ which is a much clearer way to put it.) When we write, we take something that is completely immaterial and transform it into actual ink on an actual page (or virtual ink on a virtual page, which counts). And that, to me, is magic.
There are things I’ve written just for myself–like journals and letters and certain poems–because I needed to shift the thoughts out of my head and onto a page, to take them from being something that controlled my mind and my emotions into something I could construct and change and even love.
There are things that I’ve written–like THE SHADOWS–for someone else. I started that book because I’d had the image of Olive’s house lurking in my brain for a decade, and I wanted to turn it into a story that my brothers would have liked when they were kids. When I finally finished it, I realized that other kids might like it too.
There are things that I’ve written because I wanted to challenge and stretch myself; because I wanted to share something strange or beautiful or frightening or funny with people I’ve never met and never will meet. I never get tired of that effort. I never feel 100% satisfied. I always want to make the next thing better.
When I sit down to write, I have a swarm of motivations whirling around me. I have a story that I want to tell. I have characters I can’t wait to visit with, to hear what they’ll say and do next. I get to practice the magic of turning thoughts and senses and emotions into words on a page. And, these days, I have deadlines and contracts and (wonder of wonders) actual readers who are waiting to hear what will happen next.
So I guess my answer is: I write because I need to, because I want to, and because I’d like to get better at it.