(written in 2010)
While browsing through my documents where I store all the stories that I've written on my computer, I opened up a letter that I wrote to a family member in November 2010. He asked why I hadn't been writing, or sharing stories, with him recently. He also wanted me to explore and explain to him, why I wrote, what I felt when I wrote... what drove me to write.
At the time, I had just gone through a separation & divorce, had moved from Belfast to Bangor, was living with strangers (who have since become life-long friends), had started a new career in a field I'd never dabbled in before...essentially I was trying to reinvent myself yet again. It was, I think, his way of trying to help me through a black period in my life, and find inspiration. He's an amazing guy, and has always been a mentor. I appreciated it then, I still do today.
Anyway, I had forgotten this long letter of reply, until now. I realized when I read it a few moments ago, that it really is an "open book" so to speak, of what writing means to me. I thought I would share it for those who might find a morbid fascination seeing inside my head....LOL, at least for those of you who dare to look.
It's sort of fun digging some of these things out of the dusty shelf on my 'puter's hard drive.
The letter follows:
I like to write.
It seems to help me organize the thoughts that run rampant in my mind almost continuously. These thoughts happen spontaneously during my waking hours, most especially at night when I'm trying to go to sleep. I'm not always sure what triggers the thoughts, the memories, or the pontifications that compel me to write. Sometimes, I suppose, it is a “memory spike” while chatting and reminiscing with family members, or, a flash of inspiration while alone and pondering life, love, growing older, and my current lot in life. Mostly I suspect it is because I still have so many questions as to who I really am, what life has been for me to this point, and what lies ahead.
Sometimes when sleep wont come because my mind wont shut down, I take to the keyboard and purge myself....problem is, these thoughts are like a bottomless well, so while I find writing cathartic, I tend to have very irregular sleeping habits. I have spent many a night at the keyboard, banging away until breaking dawn, letting whatever I'm writing take on a life of its own. I rarely make any changes to what I write other than corrections to spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors.
Some would say that the quality of the story may at times suffer because of this refusal, on my part, to rewrite or restructure parts or all of the story I write in an effort to “get it right”. I feel that I have no right to do this, it can only denigrate what was created. “Getting it right”, to me, is letting the story write itself. I may be the guy at the keyboard, but I feel like I am merely an instrument. The story is born of these thoughts, both conscious and subconscious, that truly do take on a life of its own as I hunker over the keyboard.
These thoughts vary. Some are childhood memories of growing up on the farm, stories about my grandparents, my uncles, aunts, cousins, my Mom and Dad, my sister, and my brother. These sure are fun to write as they bring back such sweet and mostly funny memories, or allows me to reinvent stories that were passed down from the preceding generations and have become part of family lore. These stories, while written “tongue in cheek”, feature many valuable life lessons exposed in much the same manner as I learned them, from my elders and from life itself.
Other thoughts are really more of the same, memories of my early adult life, after life on the farm. Slices of life, as this yokel farm boy, becomes an adult and wanders through life. This includes stories of people who were so instrumental to me in that era of my life, foraging in the business world, getting married, having children, going through a divorce by age 32, and then reinventing myself several times over, which included meeting and marrying the girl of my dreams, raising the children together in a very comfortable old farmhouse in Waldo, enjoying upper middle class income, travel, friends, and lots of adventure.
You'd think that these stories would be fun to write too, it was such a happy period of life, but as of right now they are not. Too fresh I suppose. A lot of “stuff” happened that took all that away from us...many failures over a period of time...mostly mine. I DO write about this part of my life, as it was who I was for so long, who I thought I was meant to be, and who I thought I'd be until I died. My identity. I've come to realize that ones identity is not always constant, it is like the tide, ever moving in swells and recessions.
I am unwilling to share these thoughts for now because it is a bit too personal. I'd likely present myself as simpering, self pitying, and victimized. Uh, no...I refuse to be any of those things, but I do admit to using the keyboard to correlate such thoughts...my way of purging. Perhaps time will allow me to write stories about this part of my life in the same manner as my other stories, filled with warm and humorous memories. For now, I am pushing my thoughts toward the more contemporary and what may lie in my future.
It is interesting to sort of create a visual/written outline of ones life. Something to look at that ties all the many facets and periods of our life into a map of sorts. I suppose this becomes more important as we grow older for we have obtained much more in terms of life experience, and these reflections theoretically define what we focus our future on. As I mentioned, I tend to write as inspiration grabs me, and this is usually in the wee hours....I'm trying to be a bit more disciplined. Since I have the time to devote, I am trying to sit at the keyboard for a few hours each day and just see what happens, what transpires, and what is produced. Maybe this will help me get a better nights sleep if nothing else. I'm wondering if I do this, if perhaps that creative piece of my mind can be turned on like a light switch, instead of dragging myself to the keyboard at 1:00 am because of the compulsion to purge whatever is going on in this over-active mind. Maybe I can find the same self analysis and emotional release while letting the words hatch on the screen, and perhaps experience something worthwhile being born in the words that appear on the screen. I'm told that Stephen King commits at least four hours a day to writing, that he has done this since he began writing, that it keeps him inspired to write.
I am in no way comparing myself to Stephen King, but maybe committing to a defined “schedule”, rather than writing in an insomniac-driven fit of inspiration, will improve my creative health, much like consistent exercise and diet improves our body and overall physical health. Not only will this potentially help my sleeping patterns, it will discipline me to write more, which in turn will allow me to create more. My concern is the “watering down” effect. I do not want to lose that experience of words taking on a life of their own, producing a story that is unique and palpable. To me, that is what writing should be. I don't want to lose that desire to write, that almost “little boy wide-eyed Christmas morning” feeling of when I watch a “thought spike” blossom into this story....almost as I am a spectator during the process. I crave the spontaneous combustion of emotions that make me laugh, cry, feel joy, anger, sadness, and happiness as the story unfolds before my eyes. It surely makes me feel very vulnerable when I share such thoughts, feelings, and emotions with the reader, but it also makes me feel alive.
Such personal and emotional investment on my part, of course, may not be so readily apparent to the reader, but it can leave me feeling a little naked at times. To say the least, my writings are important to me, and evidently it is important to me to share some of them. I'm not sure how important it is to me that readers feel what I feel about my stories, but if it triggers the readers own memories and emotions, then that, I think, is what any writer finds gratifying.
Some of my stories have garnered positive feedback, and elicited others to take a trip down memory lane. This is important, as many of my stories capture events and personalities that are no longer part of this world, and those legacies should not be lost. I'm sure there are others who should and could offer a better rendition, but I understand how exposed it can make the writer of such personal memories feel, so I guess I feel a certain sense of responsibility to be this generations story-teller to my family and friends. My intentions are that my stories be equal parts anecdotal, entertaining, vivid, truthful, and thought provoking....but as I say they seem to take on a life of their own. Just kidding....I am solely responsible for the content and I hope I don't offend anyone.....unless, I am trying to.
So, as I have in the past, I will continue to pester my family and friends for subject matter. I love to spend time reminiscing over a drink, a meal, or coffee...hearing these rich and delicious stories from these incredible people in my life, enjoying their own personalities inflected within the adventure they spin for me. Believe me, I am blessed to have many wonderful story-tellers as part of my circle, and those stories and thoughts of by gone times produce my own memories, which becomes a reason to write more stories....I shamelessly use others awesome stories and memories to feed my own.
So, over the past year, I've written very little that I can share. A few maudlin, self pitying pieces that make me cringe when I read them now....ugh. Anyway, I have a few ideas that I want to explore, story-wise, and my intention is to branch out beyond the security of family and friends to see if there is interest in my little self-indulgence. Also, in 2007 I decided to try my hand at writing a fictitious novel. In my mind this novel would introduce a cast of characters that could continue to be developed over a series of stories based on the recurring main character. It is a murder mystery, of which is my personal favorite genre of novels to enjoy. I have decided to dust that tome off, and find the inspiration to finish it. It is, at times, grueling work, but it is also engrossing to try to be totally creative and build this story from scratch. I suspect it will take a better part of a year to do the research and then put the words together.
In the short term, I have decided to take the plunge and see if I can find interest with a publisher to publish some of the short stories/memoirs that I have been writing and sharing with friends and family over the past 15 years or so. Once again, I know I risk the despair of rejection, but with so many encouraging me to try, and the possibility to have these family stories published as a way to honor this family and those memories we all share, is far too enticing, not to try.
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