The very first writing class I took, the very first assignment, the very first thing I ever had to read aloud – was why do you write? I decided then that this tale is all pretty dull and only matters to the writer, but it’s worth writing down. It’s worth revisiting every-so-often. It’s worth reminding ourselves.
The other thing I noticed (and continue to notice through the years because no matter how dull our I’ve-been-writing-poetry-since-third-grade stories are) is that mine is different. Not any less boring, but different. I came to writing from a different place.
After months of therapy and exhausting my counselor’s constructive ideas, out of desperation she handed me a journal, a list of how-are-we-feeling-today questions, and a pen. I had told her from the very beginning that I would try anything once and I meant it. First thing the next morning, I sat on the bathroom floor in the dark and started writing.
And I’d like to tell you that choirs sang with that first word and that all the pieces finally fit together – but that would be a big, fat lie. Some mornings I sat and scratched a giant hole in the page. Other days were just a laundry list of grief: I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m volatile. Huh, I thought, volatile is a fancy word. And I kept writing and scratching. Of course, my therapist asked me about the writing and I told her it was going better than expected. I found that if the words were on the page, I had an easier time saying them out loud. After a year or so, she asked to see some of what I was writing. I assured her it wasn’t fit for human consumption. She disagreed. I brought her some of my words – some of the scariest ones.
I expected to make her sorry that she had asked. Instead, she sat back in her chair and said this is a poem. I laughed. Others would benefit by reading this. A huge chunk of me didn’t believe her but that small, hopeful part wanted to help, wanted to be heard, and wanted to not feel so alone. I brought her more words. She sent me home with a hospital brochure and asked if I would re-word it for them. Finally, after months and months of words, pages of things I couldn’t verbalize, my therapist said the thing that still rings in my ears: you’ve found your voice.
I was almost forty years old.
So when I sat down in that first writing class and was asked that why question, I knew the written word had become the way I processed the world. It had become the way I made sense, the way I dealt. And the first sentence of that first writing assignment and the first words I offered to my class were these:
I write because I can’t NOT.
Today, sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself the why question. What do you get from it? Why do you show up and write each day? Remind yourself.