Why I Write – Reyna Marder Gentin

On the Difference Between Remembering and Creating
originally published online at Mothers Always Write

It may be stating the obvious, but when you write memoir, you become a slave to your recollections. The story you’re telling isn’t necessarily “true” in any empirical sense. It’s true only in that it’s how you remember what you and others did or said at some specific moment in time. And it’s likely only part of a larger narrative – the part with which you happen to be familiar.   Although you are free to interpret the actions or the emotions of the players, you don’t, when writing memoir, fundamentally change their behavior or how they expressed themselves. When you inevitably ask yourself — “wouldn’t it be so much more dramatic if, instead of opening the letter at that moment, alone in the room, he hesitated and opened it in front of his wife?“ — the answer may be an emphatic “yes, it would be more exciting or consequential.” But that isn’t the way it happened, and you can’t write it that way.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Florrie Jackson

IMG_20160225_191224159I write because I can’t stop.

I write every day. It’s not a chore; it’s not a pain. I just can’t stop.

Even when I don’t set a pen to paper or open my computer, I’m writing. If I’m having a conversation with someone, I’m writing it out in my head. Every time someone says something, my head says, “she said, he said.” It’s only a matter of time before I’ll actually write it down on paper.

I wrote my first book when I was ten. I had thought it was enough, before, to just write in my head. But when my mother suggested I write a little book for my grandfather for his seventieth birthday, the idea was infectious.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Olivia Worden

Olivia 2I write to fill in the blanks. I write to fill up the silences. I write to remove the hands that have been placed over my mouth. I write to compose the face of my biological mother. I write because when I was three, a woman fell out of a fifth story window at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Her camera took off the ear of the man who stood beside me and the weight of her body broke my father’s feet. The woman survived. I stopped going to parades. And that’s why I write. I write to choose a side, to shame my absentee father and polish the pedestal my mother stands on. I write because my grandfather’s youngest brother was a poet, who kept his poems in tea tins and never married the woman from Australia, a woman who refused to return with him to Ireland to live with his mother. I write to keep from screaming. I write to scream. I write to tell strangers that I am American. I write to tell them to stop speaking slowly. I write to tell them that I can write “good” English. I write to stop having nightmares. I write so I can walk upright, instead of sideways. I write to practice breathing underwater. I write to force myself to take inventory of all my ugly parts. I write so my left eye stops twitching. I write to reach you. And I write to push you away. I write because something has shattered and I want to put it back together. I write because it is all I know. I write because, perhaps, there is something left to be written.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Laurel Clark

ClarkI write because I want to remember.

I was born in St. Louis Missouri on July 23 in the wonderful year 1998 when my parents suddenly realized they were parents! I grew up within the affection of my wonderful mother and father. Their love has consistently soaked through every memory I can scrape together from my first four years of life before my cunning and glamorous younger sister was born and all the years that followed after.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Ellen Bregman

2015 Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College Honorable Mention

2012-08-19_Ellen @ Central Park-the Pool (2)I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t write anything besides an email, a thank-you note, or maybe a business letter, for more than 30 years. I knew I liked to write — once. I won a prize in the We Are The Flag essay contest in the 5th grade, and I was Editorial Editor of the Taylor Allderdice High School Foreword. In college I published a piece on The Rocky Horror Picture Show (yes, it was the late 70’s) in the Detroit News. I kept a journal and scribbled away for my Creative Writing class. My professor encouraged me to enter the Hopwood Contest, which I lost.

English?  Journalism?  My parents were not impressed. They threatened to withhold my tuition unless I majored in something “practical,” so I put down my pen.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Erin Robinson-Lis

 

Lis Family PortraitI write because I relish the blank page. While some people see a blank page and feel fear, loathing, intimidation, frustration and the like, to me, a blank page signals the art of the possible. It’s the chance to create something new, take a well-worn topic and turn it on its head, dig deeper to make the reader think, feel and act differently. That’s what I’ve done in business writing and now in my first novel.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Kathy Gevlin

 

kmgI write to figure out what it is I think.  About things that happened to me or people I know, about people, about the passage of time.  I write to understand and process – sometimes just to find –my own emotions.  When I can locate them, I can begin to better understand others, I think.   When I get it the words right (which isn’t often) I feel it.  I feel that I have somehow reincarnated that lost parent or lover or friend who I never understood.  And then I say huh, I think I get you now.   It is a very cool feeling.

Continue reading

Why I Write – Suki van Djik

 

sukipicI write because I don’t have any choice not to. When I’m sad, when I’m overwhelmed, when I need to make sense of the world – it leads me straight to the page. I started by playing “town” in grade school, writing scenes for a collection of invented characters, moved on to horribly overwrought poetry in middle school and have written novels since high school.

Continue reading

Why I Write

By Catherine Bell
Rush of Shadows

As I write, I cycle through different stages of motivation and reward. It’s never easy, but as long as I keep going, I’m happy, which is why I call myself a writer.

Catherine BellA memory inspires me, or an event or anecdote. It’s just an idea, or feeling, but if it has emotional resonance and promises human complications, I’m in. At this stage I write notes everywhere: at work, around the house, the car. I wake up at night and put things down. Eventually I sit at the computer and transcribe the notes, adding to them as I go along, listening with my mind’s ear, letting whatever there is pour out. The story so far is intriguing, barely seen. It’s as if I’m swimming in the ocean and my foot brushes something. Soft? Hard? Alive? How big? Do I dare bring it up and look? Is it nothing after all? A beautiful stone? The key to all the world?

I will have a lot to learn to imagine the story properly. Outer research with Wikipedia and history books. Inner research putting characters in situations, asking them questions. Research is easier than writing, and I never know enough, so it’s tempting to go on forever, but at some point I have to stop. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a source that shines such a bright, authentic light on my story that I know I can write the truth. With Rush of Shadows, it was Robert F. Heizer’s The Destruction of California Indians: 19th century letters and newspaper accounts full of unmediated attitude, compiled with the grave indignation of the editor. The light went on.

In my notes are dialogue scraps, fragmentary places, splinters of time. I have so much. I have nothing.   No real scenes. No order. No plot until I know what the characters will do. No characters until events define them. So, jump in anywhere, riding the feeling of being seized, fascinated, absorbed. The piece will outgrow its first dozen conceptions anyway and be structured and restructured many times.   After years of work on Rush of Shadows, exploring the different ways people saw a situation, I decided it couldn’t be told in one voice. This meant so much more work! I remember the exact, traumatic, thrilling spot on a hiking trail in Nova Scotia where I realized we had to hear Sam’s voice directly, and Law’s voice.

The hands-off stage is always more important than I think. Sanity means recognizing when I’ve worked so long and hard that I can’t see what I’m doing any more. Bitter as it is, I put the story aside and let the unconscious mind take over. Patience is part of craft. When I pick the story up again with fresh eyes, the reward is seeing that it’s still imperfect, embarrassing even, but still worth working on, with one or two new ideas just coming to mind. In this way, I write many drafts, laying down revisions like layers of paint, until, I hope, you don’t see the shabby places, sketchy characters, ramshackle methods and half-baked ideas I started with.

I share my work with a writers’ group, less for praise or advice than for information. How did you take it? Did this work for you? Was that a problem? A community of mutually vulnerable and exacting writers is beyond price. If they like something, I’m energized, and if they don’t, even more so. I’ve got something to mull over that may make the story better. Reader reactions are often surprising. I once sent out a story I’d struggled with for years and finally brought to perfection, only to hear from an editor that he liked it but it didn’t come together at the end. Wounded and fed up, I quit bothering. Later I saw what he meant, a version of what I’d worried about myself, and revised yet again. I’ve lived long enough now to see that story published, a prize-winner. That’s motivation for you.

Finishing is dicey, because the work is never perfect, never done. Toward the end, as if prose were poetry, I read it aloud. The pleasure of the right sound is better than money. It’s like work in a darkroom – precise and technical but emotional and meaningful as well. Your negative’s pristine, your focus sharp, you’ve checked the temperature of the developer solution and calibrated the exposure time to the second. Now you stand back and watch the image rise up in the pan, never less than miraculous. Sometimes I think, Did I write this? I wouldn’t have thought I could, if I didn’t know I had. Something bigger than me has been at work, and I’ve had the good luck to be part of it.