I’ve always been a writer. I’ve played with other forms of creativity – I dabble in 3D art, and I occasionally pick up a camera and snap a few photos – but those things are just for fun. Writing is more than that for me.
I write to understand.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like an explorer in uncharted territory, an alien making contact with a new species. The rules and customs that other people learned instinctively left me confused. I’ve always been the one who says the wrong things, who makes the wrong assumptions, who doesn’t get the jokes or know when to read between the lines.
It’s a good place to be.
Like any explorer, I made a fool of myself many times; I learned to stay on the sidelines and make myself invisible. Like any good explorer, I started watching and listening… and found that my spot on the sidelines was the best place to see the stories. I saw people’s loves and hates and hypocrisies; I saw what was contradictory, what was absurd, what was admirable. And the more I saw, the more fascinated I became. How could I not want to write some of those stories down?
In doing so, I discovered that writing down those stories didn’t just let me record my observations – it also helped me make sense of them.
I write to connect.
I write myself into the heads of people who fascinate me – the ones I can relate to and the ones I don’t understand at all. I learn about people in order to write about them, and the more I write about them, the more I learn. In my writing I can get inside somebody else’s head in a way that’s impossible in real life… and each time I do, I understand a little more about all the different ways there are to see the world.
My stories aren’t just a reflection of others, of course. More than anything else, they’re a reflection of me. What matters to me, what drives me, my own complexities and flaws and triumphs. When I write, I combine my inner world with the world I’ve spent twenty-three years observing – and in addition to seeing the places where the two diverge, I can see the connections. And when I share my stories with others, they understand my world a little better, and see their world through somebody else’s eyes.
I write because I love stories.
Books have been a huge part of my life since before I could read by myself. I read to make sense of the world and to escape from it. Fiction is easier to understand than reality, and more forgiving; maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to it. I was the kind of kid who would rather sit inside with a book than go out and play, and I haven’t changed much since then – you’re much more likely to find me curled up with a book than out on the town.
I can’t do without stories; it’s like an addiction. Fiction is a way to see into other people’s lives, and to try out those lives for a while; it’s also communication, a completely different kind of communication than nonfiction. Stories – good stories, anyway – show the same things I look for when I watch the people around me: they show what people are made of, and what worlds are made of, and the horrible and wonderful things about humanity. It’s a conversation I want to be part of.
I write because I have to.
There was never a moment when I decided to be a writer. Other writers have stories of being encouraged by a particular teacher, or a certain novel, or a story idea that just wouldn’t go away; it wasn’t like that for me. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t write novels.
Some writers talk about getting discouraged and giving up. I don’t understand that. It’s not that I think it’s wrong; it’s that the concept simply doesn’t make sense to me. I have days when I think my writing is about as pretty as the cat’s hairballs; I’ve had days when I couldn’t wring more than three words out of an uncooperative muse; I’ve looked at my stack of rejection letters and wondered if I’ll still be just as far from publication fifty years from now. But taking another path isn’t an option, any more than I could change the color of my eyes.
And my writing means something.
I don’t tend to think about my writing having any significance outside my own mind. After all, the only thing I’ve had published is a short story in a tiny local newspaper; most of my stories have only been read by a couple of friends. I tell myself that I’m only writing for myself, and that my writing won’t mean anything to anyone but me. But then I remember – I write to connect, too.
And I’ve had people tell me my stories have stuck with them years later. I’ve had people say, “Something happened to me today that made me remember that scene in your book.” When I put a story out into the world, even if I only show it to one other person, it creates ripples; an idea that once existed only in my head is now in somebody else’s. I may never be a bestselling author, but I’ve created stories out of nothing and made them come alive inside other people’s minds. I still don’t quite fit in this world, but when I write I add something to it that wasn’t there before.