Why I Write
I’ve written, in some form or other, ever since I was about eleven. Writing helped me make sense of my world. It was my way of figuring out the good and the bad of what I saw around me, it was my heart on paper.
I had teachers who encouraged me, both in grade school, and later in high school. When the teacher who was our sponsor for Beta Club sent in one of my poems to the National Beta Club Journal and it was accepted, I became a minor celebrity at our small high school. Well, at least to all the other Beta Club members.
As an honor student at graduation, my class voted to have me write a class poem to be read. I considered it a great honor because my peers (and we all know how important peers are in high school) had chosen me. I read my poem at the graduation ceremony. Afterwards, my grandfather who had never learned to read, came up to me and said he couldn’t ever remember when he was more proud.
However, even with these kinds of inspirations for my writing, I never allowed myself to think of myself as a writer in terms of it being a profession. I followed different paths, for various reasons that I won’t go into here, but never as a writer.
But writing wouldn’t leave me alone. No matter how much I tried to focus myself on other things, no matter how I tried to turn my attention away from it…writing always crept back in my life. An idea for a short story, a snippet of a poem, a journal entry that spoke some truth I had finally realized…all of these kept writing as part of my life.
About twelve years ago I subscribed to a couple of writing magazines as a birthday gift to myself. At about the same time we got a computer at home and I was hooked on a new way of writing. Before the laborious process of pen and paper had often felt as if it caused friction between what my brain was thinking and my hands could produce. The use of a keyboard truly changed all of that for me.
Suddenly I could type my musings almost as fast as I could think them! How liberating!
With this transformation, writing became as almost daily experience (as time would allow) and I wrote madly. Stories, poems, even the beginnings of a book all tumbled from my fingertips with an ease I would have never thought possible.
I was writing! Really writing! Even if no one else read it, I was expressing myself in a way and with a clarity I had never experienced before.
After about two years of this, I decided that I wanted to share my writing. I submitted several stories and poems to literary magazines. Most of what I received were rejections. It depressed me for a bit, but I decided to stick with my convictions. What I was doing, in terms of writing, was too important to my identity to let it fall to the wayside.
I learned that rejections hurt, if you take them personally, which I did at first. But I also used them to learn, if there were suggestions about editing, I made them.
After a couple of years I got two poems and a short creative nonfiction piece published in two online e-zines. These acceptances boosted my confidence immensely.
My real leap of faith came in 1999 when I decided to write a letter to the editor of my local hometown newspaper with a sample column and ask to be considered as an occasional “guest” columnist.
I was extremely nervous, yet determined to give it a try. After all, I decided that the worst thing that could happen is that he would say he wasn’t interested.
To my surprise, and great joy, he was interested. He published my first offering, a short essay thanking the firefighters, both locally and from around the country, who were battling an ongoing wildfire. He suggested I send him other columns, as often as I was able, for the weekly newspaper.
The satisfaction I’ve received from writing a column is immense. I have received phone calls, emails, cards, and letters over the years from readers who say I have touched them in some way.
Anytime I’ve been told I’ve touched a heart, or made someone smile, laugh, or cry because of something I’ve written, then I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do.
But every now and then, it can seem a little confining. I am acutely aware I write for a certain “audience” with my column. They are rural, southern, and fairly conservative. The few times I have stepped outside my self-imposed boundaries, my editor has gotten a call about the newspaper turning into a “liberal rag.” These have usually been over columns with political content. But even those instances, to me, have been part of the writing process. I’ve made people think, and outside of their own comfort zones, at that. They may not agree with what I’ve written, but they have had to think about it, if only for the time they were reading my words.
As much as I've enjoyed the ability to have a venue for writing with my newspaper column for the last eight years, the restrictions (space limitations of less than 1,000 words) and whom I write for can sometimes be restrictive and somewhat inhibiting at times. The training and experience, on the other hand, has been invaluable.
I’ve continued my other writing and finding Gather was a real godsend in many ways for me. A place to post my writings, a place to read other writers, a place to discuss and get feedback on the craft of writing---I am in heaven here. I served as a Writing Essentials editor for a while and found it was another valuable experience in my ongoing evolution as a writer.
Last April I left Gather to focus on my short story collection. I wanted to polish it and write a couple more stories so that I could submit them to a couple of serious competitions. After a couple of months of intense work I got them completed and submitted by the deadline in June of 2008. Now all that was left was the wait, that long wait for letters of acceptance or rejection.
Last month, and then again a few days I go, I got my letters. Rejections again. The first was the standard “Thanks for participating in the competition”, but no thanks.
The one this week had a letter explaining I had made it to the final round of judging, but another manuscript was chosen as the winner. On the title page of my manuscript were two separate notes from the judges. One was short and to the point, it said: “Good, but needs more work.”
I’m thinking to myself, “What? The whole manuscript or specific stories?”
The second one said: “Well-written, but two-goody-two shoes. Think of O’Connor, these stories need more grit!”
Hmm, I know I’m no Flannery O’Connor. Not in a million years. And to be truthful, I wouldn’t want to be, for as great a writer as she is, I find her work too depressing.
Besides, I want to have my own voice when I write, not some other Southern author. I guess I just have to keep plugging away at it and see where it takes me. I emailed a writer friend with my bad news and asked, “Why do I keep writing?”
His short, but to the point reply came back, “Because you’re good at it.”
Even if that’s not completely true, it’s good to have friends who are there to support you and give you the little push you need to recognize why you write.
Determination is the key. Keeping at it, even when you feel low and like there is no one who will ever read what you are writing, is paramount.
Because in the end, I believe you have to write for yourself and from your own heart. You have to know your truths and go from there with your writing. If you do that, it will all fall into place eventually.
My truths, I have learned, are that I write from my heart. I write about giving voice to the place and people that I came from. My sense of place is strong, it dwells within my heart, no matter where I physically reside. It is the nucleus, the very core, of most that I write in terms of my stories. Giving that place and those people voice, offering them to the rest of the world, is what I truly believe my mission in writing is all about.
So, find your truth, your goal in writing, and you will find your voice. And once you find your voice…then, you are ready to write with all your heart and share it with the world.
Rose S. Williams