Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Do We Write?

Dawn Haines begins her essay, "To Begin, After A Long Time Gone", in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers with the following sentence: "In January 2006 I graduated from a low-residency program and stopped writing." Sound familiar? How about her analysis of why: "The deadlines instituted by the MFA program I attended had given me the incentive--even the discipline--to write, but after I graduated the reality hit me: Writing is hard."

Haines has hit upon the precise reason I write this blog and the reason I founded an online poetry community: the writing life is a life of connection--a connection with what others have written and a connection with other writers. In an MFA or BFA program we wrote, at least in part, because we purchased, among other things, an ongoing community of fellow-writers with writing deadlines imposed upon us.

Unless we find (or make) a substitute community that holds one another accountable after leaving the program, many of us will do something like what Haines did: "I thought a break [from writing] was rational...I was tired of fighting for time and for the even more difficult-to-acquire quiet space I needed for writing...Before long, I noticed I was feeling bad. Really bad. So bad that I wouldn't get out of bed. I told myself that tomorrow I'd start writing, every day, just for me. But I stayed in bed and read novels and watched movies on y son's portable DVD player. I turned on my computer only to read e-mail and catch up on American Idol news. And the longer I didn't write, the more I felt like a failure because of all the unwritten words."

The path back to writing, for Haines, came from listening to a member of her writing group who suggested she simply write about not writing. That led to other ideas that she developed into stories and she was back on track.

What is your path back into the writing life? What are you spending your time thinking about? Write about it! What are you spending your time doing? Write about it! What are you reading? (Oops, not reading--pick up that book you bought your last MFA semester, the one that you never got around to reading.) Write about it! As Haines points out, you don't have to have open-ended hours of isolation to make progress. You don't have to live the idyllic writing life in order to write. And that brings up the question: "Why do you write?" Do you write in order to fulfill other needs--to feel important, to be a success, to avoid being a failure? Or do you write for the intrinsic benefits that writing brings?

Haines writes to connect--to connect with her readers, yes. But more important, to connect to herself. "It's a process of unfolding, and what it reveals to me--however troubling--is deeply satisfying. There is no failure in discovery. Often when I'm writing, I feel most alive."

What Haines is speaking about is writing as a deeply meditative (spiritual) act. Like breathing, it has benefits outside of itself. But there is a joy in simply focusing upon and experiencing our own breath. In. Out. In. Out. Read. Write. Read. Write.

How can we not do it and be alive?

Haines concludes so well: "Writing is about making connections and creating something where before there was nothing. It's about energy and intellect and gifts. It's about hope. This day, in spite of myself, the writing did what I nearly forgot it could do. And more."

Here's hoping...

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