Thursday, February 01, 2007

PH: On the Way to Why We Write

“There are writers who write for fame. And there are writers who write because we need to make sense of the world we live in; writing is a way to clarity, to interpret, to reinvent.”
--Bell Hooks; Remembered Rapture

Not every writer can pinpoint the exact moment she or he wrote down the first few passionate words that changed everything. We’re more likely to remember the feeling it gave us. Remember when that was more important than knowing why you write?

My first essays were guided by a published novelist who had come to our small Arkansas college to teach freshman English. Instead of the typical research essays, he directed us to write confessional narrative. It was within those early pages that my writing voice sputtered to the surface.

Confessional writing gives the emerging writer free rein to explore voice through brief introspective vignettes. I think I wrote about the muddy sneakers in my dorm room or something that seemed meaningless. It was a jumpstart subject; you probably remember those too. The confessional awakens the desire to write with a greater intent, truthfully interpreting life up close. If you write fiction in first person, you’ve examined the human condition beneath the epidermis, so to speak. I remember how meaningful personal writing became even if I could not exactly express why. It forced me to interpret first my life and then persons whose lives touched mine, whether negatively or positively.

My young life had been dictated to me; but now I was dictating and also clarifying what was within my grasp to peel back honestly and see. While I may not remember the exact language that led me to that experience, I remember the feeling; it was as if I were breaking through walls. It’s a common thread among some contemporary American writers to explore issues like liberation from an autocratic existence. (Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Bebe Moore Campbell) Many faith writings express this theme through spiritual metaphor. You may have employed one or both strategies in your fiction. But the feeling of breaking through to find that raw layer of truth is a writer’s deepest satisfaction, no matter what the theme.

Somewhere in that tender place of discovery, we may eventually find that our writing voice becomes intertwined with our reason to write, the two engines inseparable. Writing provides a microcosm of why humans respond as they do and what causes a life to grow and then disintegrate. I love the flawed life of the antagonist after I’ve interpreted it more reflectively. Digging for the truth helps each of us to be honest about our own deficiencies. We learn to taste of grace and pass it on.

I’ve learned to reach for an answer, (sometimes not fully aware of the question) groping around like a literary mole until it appears mysteriously in the story. It is for that reason that I can’t picture writing without faith. Suffice it to say, we writers often find voice when we embark on the journey to find out why we need it.

Patricia Hickman is the author of Earthly Vows and Whisper Town. You may find out more about her either at or also called Food for the Journey.


Post a Comment

<< Home