To Silence the Voices in my Head

Those who read Weronika Janczuk’s blog probably already know that the title answers the question “Why do you write?”

As it happens, that’s exactly the answer I give most people who ask, partly because I prefer to go for the cheap joke but more so because most people who ask don’t really want a longer answer.  They ask because it’s what you ask a writer (along with the always popular, “have you sold anything,” and “are you published or do you just do it for fun”).

To those like Weronika who really want to know, however, I follow that up with another answer.  I write because I have always written.  It is one of the few activities which bring me the peace that comes from doing something that I was made to do.

When I was five, my parents taught me to weed flower gardens.  We had a lot of them, and Saturday mornings were dedicated to “family yard work” – which didn’t mean we all worked on the same projects, or even in the same area of the yard, but we all worked and we all worked fairly hard.  Let loose with a bucket and a patch of weedy roses, I quickly learned that gardening does a great job of occupying the hands but lets the mind roam free.  Even as a very young child, I found myself picking up the stories I’d been playing with my Breyer horses the night before (some kids had horses for their Barbies….I had Barbies because I couldn’t actually ride the little horses). As I weeded, I told myself what happened next.  I didn’t need the horses in my hands to tell the tales.

As I grew older, the Barbies and the horses fell away, but the stories remained.  Indian scouts and talking dragons replaced the simple tales.  Worlds unfolded in those gardens while I cleared away the weeds.  By the time I reached the ninth grade, I began putting pen to paper, and I wrote my first (bad) novel – longhand – in my sophomore year.  Massive revisions followed, overseen by a pair of English teachers whose red pens bled my manuscript more liberally than the most zealous medieval surgeon.

I learned to accept criticism.  I put my head down and wrote some more.

When I reached college, I put down the (better but still rotten) manuscript and focused on academic writing, a pursuit that carried me through undergraduate and law school as I honed that different craft.  The need to write more fiction never died, but I subordinated it to classes, work, and family.  The needs of the many (creditors) outweighed the needs of the characters that existed only in my mind.

Or so I thought.  Those college years taught me more than academic writing.  They introduced me to history on a personal scale, and inspired me to see it through the eyes of the people who lived it rather than the historians who usually tell the tale.

The rest of the story, I’ll leave for another day.  Why do I write?  To silence the voices in my head.  The ones I heard in childhood, refined in high school, discovered in college and honed to crystalline clarity in the years between then and now.  I write because interesting stories deserve to be told and because they’re fun to read – and because I’m listening to them anyway, every time I weed the yard.

(Prompted by Weronika Janczuk’s post: “Why I Write” and invitation for responses.  Thanks for the nudge.)

2 thoughts on “To Silence the Voices in my Head

  • September 16, 2010 at 9:31 am

    What a fantastic story! I love that! Excellent answer.

  • September 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Susan. Now, there’s a tale of perseverance. It also sounds so much better than what I tell people. “Because I suck at math.” I’m a firm believer that when someone does something because it’s just who they are, there’s no question that they are going to shine. All the best.

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