In the fourth grade, I wrote an essay about how my favorite place on earth was my grandfather's horse ranch with its sprawling groves of trees and winding streams. I remember feeling particularly brilliant as I wrote that essay, inventing this entirely fictional haven on wide-lined sheets of soft brown paper. My mother remembers being particularly horrified when the essay came home with a big fat A on it, as she was unaware that I had become such a boldfaced liar.
At the time, I may not have had the words to explain why my favorite place on earth was the spot directly in front of the old swamp cooler in my father's converted garage/rec room. God I loved the earthy moldy smell of that thing and the cool, wet air which bathed my face. I'd stand there, toes curled on the edges of a worn patch in the indoor-outdoor carpet while my sisters smacked balls with satisfying thuds into the pockets of the pool table behind me. It was my personal heaven. But a musty old swamp cooler is a strange thing for a fourth-grade girl to gush over and I was already strange enough, so even if I could have articulated that joy, I suppose it was easier to invent some glorious ranch instead.
I usually point to the “Grandfather's Horse Ranch” essay as the moment I decided to become a writer. but deep down, I don't believe that any of us “decide” to become writers. We either are or we aren't and the only decision-making we get to do is as follows:
- Choose to admit that we are of the writerly persuasion
- Commit the act of writing
Steven King famously said “Writers write.” and Hugh Prather mused “If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write”. Some other pithy fellow penned the words “I am only a writer when I am writing.” While these are great motivational quotes, I would argue that they are inherently false. Before a single word hits that first page, writers think and by nature (and nurture, which we can discuss later) I think like a writer. Like being an addict, weaving stories is something about me that is unchangeable. If I chose not to commit another word to the page for the rest of my life, I would still be a storyteller, a questioner, an inventor of other worlds and a teller of tales. I can choose to actively engage this facet of my self but whether I do so or not, it remains part of the fabric of who I am.
But perhaps it is a matter of semantics. Maybe the subtle difference between WRITER and STORYTELLER is what confuses the issue. It is completely possible that Steven King and Hugh Prather and that other Dude 'O Letters are right. Perhaps I am a storyteller by nature and only a writer when I put the proverbial pen to paper.
What I DO know is this: The constant editing and revisions to my internal monologue take up entirely too much of my time. I write because I cannot NOT write. When I have gone through brief periods of abstinence I feel like some essential piece of myself is missing. In short, the act of finding the right words and stringing them together in the right order is the best feeling I know. I may be a writer by nature but I have to choose to accept that nature and to answer that call every single day.