Why I Write

My good friend Erica tagged me in this thing that is going around the blogs. It’s supposed to be for writers but she tagged me anyway. It’s one of those things where you answer four questions (in this case about your own writing) and then tag two other writers to do the same. It’s an attractive idea to me because I love reading “why I write” pieces from writers. However, at first I didn’t want to do it. The truth is that even though I identify as a writer, insofar as that’s how I orient myself in the world, I don’t really write very much these days. I’m not necessarily busy, just stuck or distracted. I was flattered to be included in this thing, though, and I’ll do it because Erica asked me to.

What are you working on? The easy answer to this question is syllabi. It seems I am always working on a syllabus. But even though I just made a lot of noise about how I don’t really write much, I am working on a couple of things that aren’t teaching-related. One is my first paid writing gig ever: a piece for a local nonprofit. That is almost done and I’m hoping to turn my attention to a project I started a long time ago. It’s a novel about parental instincts and loss, mostly. It’s also about how cold it is in the winter in Chicago.

How does your work differ from other writers in your genre? I don’t know if I have a genre. I want to be Barbara Kingsolver when I grow up, but I don’t know what genre she is and that comparison is laughably egotistical. What is it called when you’re writing about the experiences of humans, mostly women, in the same place and time that you inhabit? Let’s go ahead and call my genre That Which Takes Itself Too Seriously. Aren’t we past genres, anyway? Isn’t Netflix supposed to be changing the way we think about—Wait, maybe that’s something else.

Why do you write? I’ve been interested in the “why I write” genre for awhile, since graduate school at least. I like it when writers try to explain why they write. Unsurprisingly, Joan Didion’s “Why I Write” essay is my favorite. Over and over again, Didion identifies feelings, reactions, and experiences I’ve had but couldn’t name. She puts words there and words make things make sense. In The Year of Magical Thinking, she articulates again what she refers to as “the impulse to write things down” in the essay “On Keeping a Notebook.” In the former text, she writes: “I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish.” That’s exactly why I write: nothing makes sense without it.

What is your writing process? I think about something for a very long time, sometimes months, and then I stay up too late typing away at it. I exist in a fog for two or three days, and then I shake it off and go back to thinking about something for a very long time, sometimes months.

Finally, I must tag two other writers to keep this line dance going. First, I’ll choose my partner in love and crime, Andy Welfle, because he loves me and I think we’re both trying to get more serious about writing. Secondly, my anonymous friend at Anthropolowhat is also working on figuring out how to honor and practice writing as a hobby. I can’t wait to read your answers, friends/lovers!