Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction writing challenge — well, prompt more than challenge — on why you write. First, not really a challenge like running across hot coals, but a prompt in my opinion. Second, not flash fiction since this is an essay based in truth. However, has to be within 1,000 word limit. SO, suppose it is more like a flash essay prompt.
Whatever, lets not waste precious words on frippery quibbling about the challenge. He wrote:
I’m asking for a 1000 word essay (meaning, blog post). And I want it on this subject: WHY I WRITE.
Writing saved my life. Simplistic (clichéd), but there you have it.
I started as a young child, elementary school, as a way to assuage my loneliness. I distinctly remember sitting in the school library while the librarian read to our class. I don’t remember the story but I clearly see the short, blonde wood shelves stuffed with various books and seeing a tissue box wrapped in green construction paper labeled poem entries written in black marker. I was bored by the story, I read it before (I was an advanced reader, having learned reading and writing before entering school), so I focused on other things to entertain me. I asked the teacher what it meant and she explained that the school paper ran a weekly contest where students could submit poems. The winning poem appeared in the school’s paper.
I remember stuffing that little box with multiple sheets of folded paper. It never occurred to me to write my name on any of them. I just wanted to send my words out for someone else to see. It also never occurred to me that it was all older students, thankfully, or I may have been too intimidated to stuff that green paper box. When my poem appeared in the paper no one believed I wrote it.
I’ve never been as brave, or naïve, since.
I started writing poems in elementary school, then branched out to stories, but story telling started long before I learned to write. Among my friends, I was the script writer for all our play sessions, whether it was a simple game of playing house or more complex plays involving puppets and stuffed animals. When my best friend moved away, shortly before I entered school, writing became my solace. My family life was dysfunctional, with a capital D (as they say), and I spent many hours by myself. Writing became a way to escape.
When I hit puberty I gained a new friend — depression. As a teen I remained mostly a loner with writing my outlet for the depression/loneliness that plagued my life. I attempted suicide at fifteen and as I lay down, waiting for the pills to take their effect, a story formed in my mind. While writing the story, I decided the timing for my suicide was wrong since I needed to finish the piece. So, I went downstairs and told my mother. She took me to the hospital, they pumped my stomach, and I spent a few days in the psychiatric ward. When the time came for evaluation, to decide if I was ready for release, they asked what prompted me to reach out for help instead of letting the pills kill me. I told them I hadn’t finished writing my story.
I still don’t know if they understood I meant the one I was writing at that moment, not my life story, but they released me.
Once I graduated high school and started working, writing took a back seat. Since depression still shadowed my life, I wrote short pieces, mostly poems, as a release like I’d always done. Imagine the old water heaters, where you had to bleed them once in a while, release the steam, to keep them functioning properly. That has always been writing for me — a way to release the steam to function (somewhat) properly in a world that I’ve always been out of step with.
I finally went to college in my mid-thirties and continued on to graduate school. My undergraduate degree is English Literature, my Masters in Library Science, and the best part was all the writing. While other students complained about all the papers they had to write I reveled in each paper. Every day, a new paper to write, and I was happier than any other time in my life.
My father died my first semester of graduate school, my mother died two years ago, and writing helped me grieve. It also helped me discover who I truly am. I’ve always struggled with self-esteem, self-confidence, never sure who I was and what I wanted to be when I grow up. Now, as I’ve begun to write regularly again, I’ve decided it is time to pursue what I’ve known, deep down, but was afraid to admit. I am a writer. I’ve always been a writer and it is why I’m alive.
Currently, I am applying to grad schools again. This time, for a degree in creative writing. Will it help, no idea, but without writing I would have died in 1984. Apropos, perhaps, since it is a great book that foresaw the future but not a good year to have died.
Writing is my drug, it is my escape, it is what keeps me alive and sane. Depression kills pieces of you, slowly, insidiously whispering lies. For me, poems release the darkness that depression enshrouds and stories ignite the lies. I may never be published, I may never financially survive as a writer, but without writing, I am a goner. Without stories and poems, I am completely adrift and lost. I will always write for it is my lifeline.