Why I Write.
I have been asking that question for the longest time. The other day I found an eleventh-grade report card provided some insights.
When I was young my wonderments were more about who I was, how I looked, how I fit in, certainly there was no connection between grades and my future. The only connection between grades and my future came from my mother. I listened to her scold me to study but still couldn’t force myself to pay attention to schoolwork. I found trouble easier to find then my next class, and I preferred reading Louis L’Amour western novels over textbooks.
If I still had those ragged paperback L’Amour books, long ago tossed aside for new late-night friends: Steinbeck, Roberts, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Michener and later on Doig, I would see underlined passages like from the book The Walking Drum, “You are your own best teacher. My advice is to question all things. Seek for answers, and when you find what seems to be an answer, question that too.” Or a quote from The Lonesome Gods: “There was a cowhand once who said that Shakespeare was the only poet who wrote like he’d been raised on red meat.” As I look back I can see how the cowboy wisdom of Louis L’Amour was a great influencer.
I used to think the reason I wanted to write was that I loved the way my favorite authors painted pictures with their words and phrases. I still prefer great prose over plot. I was moved by the opening lines of, For Whom the Bell Tolls, describe Robert Jordan as he “lay flat on the brown pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.” So, the story began for Robert Jordan where three days later his life ended. The scene propelled me as a young man to want to write.
Later in life, it was Ivan Doig who impressed me with his prose. The opening lines in his book, Heart Earth, a companion novel to This House of Sky, were “In the last winter of the war she knew to use point-blank ink. Nothing is ever crossed out, never a p.s., the heart-quick lines still as distinct as the day of the post-mark, her fountain pen instinctively refusing the fade of time. Among the little I have had of her is that pen. Incised into the demure barrel of it–my father must have birthdayed her a couple of weeks.” Both stories were a loving tribute to his mom and dad.
I write because I have something to say. I have always tried to understand things, not just memorize facts. There is no doubt that approach to learning and living has gotten in the way of just accepting life and whistling my way through it. I was always curious about why things happened, why people felt and acted the way they did. I have questioned my loyalty to my beliefs, politics, and causes, and always kept coming back to “I am just a human being like all the other humans with no special inside track on truth. Like everyone else my behavior began to be molded when I was a baby and continued through childhood and youth based on my close in family values, and branched out to friends and my community, and the daily bombardment of outside influencers, often commercially developed and profit motivated, which explains why companies spend millions of dollars a minute for Super Bowl ads that influence our beliefs.
I certainly wasn’t encouraged to write becaseu I was a good keyboardist. I am the worst keyboardist author ever. Paula lauges when she sees my word docomen more red the balack. I realized the other dday if anyone ever looked at all my unfnsed stores, that will diw wtih me, thy wont make soence. Who couls ever want to look at all of that, the misspelled words, the incomplete snetences, all which gibberish nakes sense to me but wll nto to anyone els.
Why write? It was not for the money. More people fail in the business of authoring than any other entrepreneurial venture as measured by income. There are great books that live in poverty and not so good ones that receive awards. I recently received a call from a reader of Aaron’s War. She said she couldn’t put it down. She felt so badly for Aaron and wanted him to find his way back home. I said it wasn’t for the money that I wrote it, but hearing that she loved the story was one of the reasons I write. It also explains why as a young man I turned to a different career—one with paychecks.
Why write? Why did I do anything in my life? As the leaves on my tree turn gold and start to fall I sometimes wonder how I succeeded in life? Why did I turn this corner, or that one, to wander up and down all the streets that led me to this destination? There are so many ways my life could have been different-so many different choices I could have made. No matter the names of those streets, when I think of my own life I always count my blessings.
I remember, with no ill-will, my eleventh grade English teacher gave me a 4 (D) in her class. Alongside the 4 (D) she noted “should have been a 5 (F),” and the remark, “more effort is needed if Rick expects to become anything in life.” Well, who could argue, but it took a long time to figure that out and put it into practice. She was right, writing novels requires more persistence then knowledge of the ins and outs of good grammar. So, thank you, Mrs. Kuhlman. (I’d love to thank her personally) It was accurate that I needed to put forth more effort. It must be tempting for teachers to project forward on the futures lives of their students, but with age must come the wisdom that a life wasn’t ever about one semester of English.
So, why I write? I have observed so often that it is rarely one thing, even as much as we want to make it so. But, I can’t resist—” Mrs. Kuhlman, I can write. I am not stupid and I did amount to something.” Deep down, maybe that is why I write.”