I started writing to entertain my family and then my classmates by reading aloud. Then I wrote to continue stories with the action figures I loved. Then I wrote because I wanted to be funny like Erma Bombeck and Jean Sheppard and Patrick McManus.
I wrote because other people told me I was a writer and so I could say they were right. I wrote because I wanted to be famous. I wrote because I wanted to build an audience that would one day encourage me to run for office as a literary philosopher president.
I wrote as a way of turning my inherited talent for eloquent bullshittery to something less destructive than how my father applied it. I wrote to get revenge on him, to show I’d grown up okay despite all his efforts. I wrote to fight evil with words like Voltaire. I wrote to debug our Cambellian cultural software, evoking the epic in all of us.
I wrote to woo women. A lot. (A lot of writing, not a lot of women.)
I wrote to earn a comfortable sinecure in academia. I wrote to escape from terrible stultifying office jobs. I wrote hoping to be a free observer on the sidelines of life, above economy and mobs.
I wrote to make the world more mysterious and strange, to make readers laugh and cringe and laugh again. I wrote so I could live forever, perhaps through an oft-visited statue of me somewhere in Englewood or Gainesville or Jacksonville not far from a vault of my well-protected papers.
Then I wrote so other people could live forever, to remember and preserve them.
But I outgrew all of that, leaving it behind as egotism and deciding that such motivations were impure. I had (and still have) the very Generation X idea that if you want something too much, you won’t get it.
Why do I write now?
Because it seems to be the talent that I have, remembering things with more drama and detail than most people. Because I like noticing connections and contradictions between things. Because I still want to make the world more weird and interesting.
Because I do love the people in my life, alive and dead, good and less than good, and I want their lives to be seen as the treasures that they are.
I used to write to entertain and inspire people, but I’m less sure lately than many of them deserve it. Now I write as a signal to anyone who does, a clandestine gesture to other saboteurs in enemy country.
I write now because I like making things clearer and more interesting with words. I still like making people see and feel things. I like making ME see and feel things, surrounding something amorphous with words so I can get at least a hint of its size and shape.
I feel alive when I’m noticing and synthesizing, when the shiver of recognition comes that something sounds right.
I’m sick these days of characters, plots, scenes, arcs, point of view, and narrative distance. I’m sick of clanking scaffolds, of our perfected science of franchise content storytelling. I’m exhausted by the act of doing the right things to say I’m a writer, to have a career.
I really just want to “shoot the shit” as my mother and father used to say, and I’m starting to think that maybe I can.
Maybe that’s all I can.