Why do we write?
I'm delighted to welcome Jeffrey Blount to my blog today. He's the author of a young adult novel with the sort of haunting cover that tempts you to pick it up, even when you know you've got read-and-review commitments to last through to next year. Hating Heidi Foster tells of a friendship torn apart by tragedy. Suffering grief and loss have deprived Mae of her closest ally right when she needs her most, and now Mae seems to be losing herself. I'm eager to read and will post a review soon I hope. Meanwhile, here's Jeffrey Blount pondering the age-old question authors face...
So, Who Asked You?
Here’s the thing about writing fiction, an author once said to me. You really have to love it and you’ll know if you do because, like the great love of your life, you can’t live without it. There is an unquenchable thirst, right? Those who don’t have this innate love, usually stop writing soon after catching the bug. Why? Because they can’t locate within themselves a real reason to continue. I mean, what’s the payoff? It’s so hard to get an agent and in today’s literary climate it feels as if you might win the lottery before being accepted by a publisher. Nobody, he said, asks you to write fiction. No one cares if you do or if you don’t. People will accept it if you happen to write a great story, but if you don’t, whatever you have in your computer or binder won’t be sorely missed by mankind.
I understood what he was getting at, but it saddened me because I liked to think that the wisdom I could impart was important. That it could help people. I mean, for me, the wisdom drawn from a writer’s exploration of humanity was the most important byproduct of good fiction. I remember thinking, in the waning moments of John Irving’s The World According to Garp, that these characters had suffered great trauma, both physical and emotional. They were all a bundle of eccentricities and were perceived as being somewhat strange, but by the end of it all they’d learned to accept who they were as individuals; to be comfortable in their own skins and lives. From Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, I learned why it’s important for me to not judge myself by what seems to be the social norms in terms of physical appearance, intellect or culture. I believed I too had something urgent and true to share with the world, but ultimately, I knew he was right. As I walked through my daily life, no one was stopping me in the street or at the office to ask for a sip from my cup of wisdom.
So why do I continue to write? Certainly, there is the fire that won’t go out. I’ve tried to put it out many times. But where did it come from? I have my theories and maybe even a conclusion. I think that fiction writers may be special in this sense. Most I know, tend to be exceptional observers of the world around them. They observe the loves, the pain and the joys via osmosis. They witness the struggles and reactions. My sage author also said to me that if I wanted to learn to write dialogue well I just had to open my ears and listen. Don’t talk. Just listen. Recently, a friend said that she was amazed at ability as a male to write from the perspective of a teenage girl in Hating Heidi Foster, especially the dialogue. I laughed and replied that after driving around the mini-van for years with five or six girls as companions, it didn’t seem that difficult.
Fiction writers don’t talk. They listen and observe. They process. And they write because they have to share what they have experienced. If we didn’t, wouldn’t it all just bottle up and cause us a kind of emotional pain? Maybe that’s the key. Maybe authors of fiction write to relieve or to release. Maybe we are volcanoes waiting to erupt and when we do, we give back what we’ve taken in and inside that eruption is the wisdom that no one actively seeks but readily accepts. Maybe that’s why the author finished by saying, write first and foremost for yourself. Maybe that’s why I can’t stop, because in the end, it’s really all for me.
BioJeffrey Blount is an Emmy award-winning television director and an award recipient for scriptwriting on multiple documentary projects. Born and raised in rural Virginia, he now lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Jeanne Meserve. They have two children, Julia and Jake