Why I Write by Joan Steinau Lester

Joan-LesterWriting, for me, is pure: totally involving, pleasurable, existing only for itself, not the end product. In the same way I cherish hiking a trail in the woods early morning, eager to see cottontail rabbits leaping into the brush, or the joy I get pulling weeds in my flower garden–where the aromas of leaves and fresh dirt fill my nostrils–writing is an activity that fully absorbs me.  When I finish, I’m flushed with pleasure.

Of course, like others who’ve answered the “why I write” question, I learn a great deal about myself during the process: writing is a minute examination of some facet of living (like, in this case, writing itself), subjecting it to the microscope. But while that is often useful, it is the mental act of creating sentences, and then paragraphs, which fills my heart with joy. I am a great rewriter, believing each revision only improves the draft; my heart lifts as each sentence receives its polish.

Why is the act itself so pleasurable? That I cannot answer. I am simply grateful that it is so. And I feel fortunate that over the years I’ve been able to create the space where I can write. Or hike in nearby woods. Or garden. They all feed the same spiritual impulse in me.

Perhaps it is simply that I am a writer, the way others find themselves strongly drawn to architecture or music or sculpture. This happens to be the medium through which the mysterious life force—what some call “the muse”–takes shape.

Only later, much later, do I consider my audience, and what readers might glean from my words. While I am writing, my focus is entirely inward. That, I believe, is what makes it so pleasurable, and ultimately, pure.

Dr. Joan Steinau Lester is an award-winning commentator and author of four critically acclaimed books: Eleanor Holmes Norton:Fire In My Soul; The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas; Taking Charge: Every Woman’s Action Guide; and her first novel, Black, White, Other: The Search For Nina Armstrong. She has won the NLGJA Seigenthaler Award in journalism and the Arts & Letters Creative Nonfiction Finalist Award. Taking Charge was nominated as a Best Women’s Book by the San Francisco Women’s Heritage Museum and Mama’s Child was a Bellwether Prize finalist. After receiving her doctorate in multicultural education, Dr. Lester served as the Executive Director of the Equity Institute, which pioneered the diversity wave of the ’80s and ’90s, for sixteen years. As a member of a biracial family, Lester’s lifelong passion has been writing about issues of racial identity. Her former husband and father of her children was black; she has been with a female partner/spouse for over thirty years. Lester’s writing has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including Essence, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Northern California.

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