“Why do you write?”
This is one of those questions we writers all get a lot. It may come in different forms, but it’s always the same idea. What makes our brain so different that scribbling (or typing) is the only way we can make ourselves feel sufficiently heard in the world?
Usually we get this from non-writers, and it can come about in three clearly defined tones.
- The Hater: Why on Earth would you waste your time writing?
- The Questioner: Why do you find writing fun, and would I like it, too?
- The Admirer: What happened to you in childhood that made you write such beautiful (or terrible) things?
Though it took me until last year to finally flesh out my answer in full, it is so clearly still my answer to this question that I decided to post it again in its entirety.
For your reading pleasure, this is why I, Adan Ramie, chose to write.
The Fight to Be Heard
Originally posted 2016-07-30: The Fight to Be Heard | “Why I Write” Essay Challenge
This week, Terrible Minds’ Chuck Wendig changed tactics on us. Instead of fiction, he asked us to write an essay on the topic, “Why I Write.” Honestly, it floored me. I almost just deleted the e-mail and moved on, because it was a daunting request. How could I explain the compulsion that drives me in 1,000 words or less?
The written word is something that I have loved for as long as I can remember. In my darkest days, literature helped me power through. And when I needed it most, the act of writing saved me from myself. But the process wasn’t without its struggles.
Britannica.com has this definition for language: “a system of conventional spoken, manual, or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.”
The Beginning of Something Magical
It all started when I was five years old. My life was one of miscommunication at best, and lack of communication at worst. I don’t remember my father being home for more than a few minutes at a time until my age was in double digits. I’m sure he was around, but with his erratic work schedule — often working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for months at a time — I wouldn’t have known it. My mother, busy with my older brother, her friends, her job, and her books, constantly pushed me away. When I did interact with either of them, it was strained. I felt like an unwelcome stranger in my own home.
At three, my mother taught me to read, filled my closet shelves with books, and shooed me off into my own private fantasy land. I read voraciously; I read books over until their covers were torn and their spines lay crushed and useless.
I read until I had nothing else to read. Then, I came out of my solitude. I wanted attention again. So, my mother bought me more books. She bought book after book, and I gobbled them up like only a lonely child can, until one day she decided that enough was enough: I needed a new task.
That’s when she taught me how to write, and my world was forever changed. Instead of reading books written by other people about the things they wanted to read about, I could write my own stories. The stories started off simply, but with them, something magical happened. I brought them to her – this woman whose approval I craved so much – and she gave me something I never thought she would: praise. She loved that I was writing stories, and she encouraged me to write more.
Writing as Hobby, Then So Much More
Over the years, I wrote hundreds of stories. At age eight, I was collaborating with my younger cousin. We came up with new worlds that we wished we could live in, and cast ourselves as heroes. From mundane fairy tales to more complex science fiction novelettes, I filled so many notebooks that a family friend gave me my first computer. I learned to type at nine years old while clicking out the kinds of love stories that reading books like Jane Eyre inspired in me.
As I grew older, I noticed that when I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t happy. That isn’t to say that I didn’t go long periods, sometimes years, without putting pen to paper or tapping out short stories into Notepad. I gave it up time after time due to fear. I was worried that I wasn’t good enough. Other, better writers would show me their work, and I felt mine didn’t compare. I was less than. I wasn’t good enough.
So, my writing voice was still. About that time, I fell in with a bad crowd, and entered into some particularly devastating relationships. I put my trust in people who didn’t deserve it, people who treated me like I was insignificant, and I suffered in silence.
When I needed it, I felt as though language failed me. I had secrets to tell, but no way to tell them. Words floated away like the acrid smoke from the clove cigarettes I had taken to so easily. I talked incessantly to friends about the most ridiculously inane things. I kept my mouth open, but my message locked down tight. No one would ever believe me.
Sometimes I would think, “If only I had the words, someone would believe me, and someone would help me.” What I learned, after years of reflection, is that I had the words. Language had never failed me. I had failed to heed, and share, the words that were so built up inside me. I failed myself.
We Learn When We Can
It took me several tedious, painful years to learn that lesson. I hurt myself, and I hurt people that I cared about, in my quest to keep myself hidden. But I made a pact with myself a few years ago that I will never go back on, and that has helped me tell my story. Whether I’m talking in my own voice or the voice of a character my mind concocted, I’m sharing a part of myself that desperately needs to be seen. In writing, I can be who I am and so much more.
My pact with myself was to never cease to share. I will let no disability, no pain, and no shame come between me and the message I want to spread.
If I need to change my style, I will. If I need to translate my words so that someone on the other side of the world can feel like they have a connection to someone else, I will find a way. And if I have to fight my way, kicking, screaming, and clawing, through picket lines and torrential floods, I will be heard.
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