You already know writers are strange. There’s your great-aunt who wrote a whole series of children’s stories about a one-eyed pirate she named Captain Crunchy. Okay so far, but---Captain Crunchy was a carrot. Yes, a pirate carrot. (And she put an eyepatch and a boot on the poor vegetable, too, didn’t she?)
Then there are the writers who pen haunting memoirs about growing up as an abused orphan native American on a reservation---or as a girl on the streets adopted by a drug gang, and the whole country swoons in besotted guilt . . . until it turns out the authors are middle class white people lying through their crooked teeth.
Then there are those famous, glamorous, filthy rich writers who pump out a book a month and no matter that they were doped dizzy on Ambien when they wrote it, every effort lands in the “bestseller” stall of fame. Crazy lucky.
So there’s all this weirdness just to begin.
And then--what about Writer’s Workshops? Who are those strange people who fly sometimes thousands of miles to gather secretly with other writers, mostly people they don’t even know? How can people pay good money for the torment of writing, you wonder, all you who were burned by your 4th grade grammar teacher, your 7th grade English teacher, your ninth grade English teacher and then your Freshman Comp instructor? And what do they do---sit around and diagram sentences, argue over the proper use of the dash, and fist-fight over the relentlessly contentious comma? Sounds exhilarating, doesn’t it?
You know they’re strange. But let me help untangle this mystery. I’ve taught Writing for thirty years, and I’m fresh off of leading two writing workshops (here:
So I’m fresh full of secrets to spill. Here they are:
*Writers are scared. We always write alone. Now, we are gathering with twelve or more to share a house, an island and a week together? We know it could go badly. The others could be bored with the stories from our lives. There could be tussling for the best seat. There could be wrangling for compliments and attention, for approval. Factions could form. Conversation could turn to Trump-ish Tower-building babble. Can we really do this?
*Writers are brave because they go anyway, fears and all. Because we know that even if it goes terribly wrong, even if it turns tragic, at least we’ll have something to write about.
Writers are scavengers like that. Even carrion can look good under our gaze and pen. We value what others don’t. We look for the discarded, the buried, the wounded. Our words take us there. And when we find them, these poor bodies and souls, memories, aunts, accidents, deceits, griefs, we attend with oil and wine. Who knows what might return to life?
*Writers are ascetics who care about words on the page more than food, more than movies, more than chocolate, more than presidential debates, more than new boots, more than tropical beaches (unless it’s winter and we really do get to go.) Maybe you guessed this. But what you don’t know is: we care about words-on-a-page because we care even more about the writer who lived them, who wrote them in her own spit, sweat, blood and fears. Yes, this most of all.
*But Writers are also gluttons. No, not for punishment---for food. We gather with one another, and we get fat. When our words and lives are heard, our lean and lonesome souls rejoice and dig in, scoop deep, and pile high. Because going away means coming home, and being heard and seen deserves at least a fatted calf. (Pass the herbed butter, please.)
*Writers retreat from the world but they care about the world more than most. Writing is love-in-action for us. Our words, written in closets, take us deep into the smell of fresh laundry on the line, into the morning sun glinting off our sister’s headstone, remembering the taste of the paste we ate in first grade art class. Our own words lead us to love the world of laundry, dirt and matter better.
Writers are ignorant. We know we know nothing. We know in the madness of living we’ve missed so much of our own lives, not to mention others. So we write to recover it. We write to remember: When our mother dropped our dinner on the kitchen floor because she couldn’t believe we won, when our friend with arthritis knit us a purple hat—and we lost it, that day we saw a girl in a pretty flowered dress carry a new toilet seat into the bus station, when we sat beside our dying father and he touched our wrist---we must learn from this.
*Writers don’t write to tell you what we know: we write to ask you if you care. We don’t have all the answers. Not even close. But we do have lots of questions about this human life we’re all trying to muddle through. And our biggest question is: do you care about this giant existence, and all the glorious and sometimes hideous details of waking up every morning in it? And will you come with me today for a few minutes so we can see and maybe name this thing called “life” together?
*We Writers know we’re weird. We know we bleed more, watch more, wonder more, stumble more, cry more, listen harder than others around us. We feel weak. We feel different. We fell less-than. We write to find out if this strange affliction can bring good to us and to others.
Writers are audacious. We have no idea when we write if two or twenty or twenty thousand will read our work. We know some will misinterpret our words. We know a few will judge us harshly, even renounce us, for the truths we write. We know our work will not earn us much or even any money at all. But we write anyway. Against all reason, against all critique, against all loss, we dare to keep setting words down on the page, one after another.
The world is birthed new every minute. If we don't take notes, who will?
Maybe it’s okay to be weird.
At least we're in good (strange) company!
Your turn! What secrets did I miss??
(And if you leave a comment, be sure and subscribe to the comments so I can write you back!)