“If beginning writers were to ask why they should write, what would you tell them?”
Jan Robbins (fellow OLLI member and V&B contributor) recently posed that question to me. (Thanks, Jan.) I’ll try to answer it now and hope you will let me know if what I say makes sense and also what your thoughts are, either as a beginning writer yourself or as someone who writes already and wants to share your ideas on why to (or not to) write.
So why bother to write? Why not just take in a baseball game or go on a cruise or spend time with the grandkids (if you have any) in the park?
For me there was really never a question. Ever since I wrote my first poem in high school (something about the moon), I have always known I’d write. Even as a little kid I used to weave stories for my friends and, although I never wrote them out, even gave myself a penname (Charles Andre).
But why, if you’re 67 or 76, would you start writing now? Well, first off, you might want to let others, such as children (if you have any) know what has happened in your life and also, and maybe in conjunction with that, do a little venting. And since all the material of your life is already there lounging around in the back of your head, as well as preserved in photographs, letters and emails, you don’t have to go far to find something to start with. So writing memoir is a good way to get the juices flowing and can also serve a practical purpose.
It can help with thinking too. E.M. Forester said, “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” And that to me is a good reason to write—in any form. We’ve all had times when we couldn’t work out some issue or problem. Sometimes when that has happened to me, I’ve written about it, whether in rational terms—complete with bullet points!—or in a more emotional form, to see what I really think and feel, and I’m often surprised that it helps.
So, imparting information, hashing things out and gaining a better understanding of your own feelings and views are good reasons to start writing.
But what if you want to really jump in and start creating something? You could begin with a poem. They’re often short, which makes them easy to start with, and they can be personal, abstract or any number of things.
Try it now (only if you want to!): Write a poem about the bird you saw out your window this morning, or about how you felt when you retired and could finally do whatever you wanted (happy, sad, mixed feelings, at a loss, all of the above and more).
How about fiction? Again, we all have a lot of experience and some of it can be used as a 'platform' from which to jump off into a fiction tale. And when you create the slightest story, you might find yourself feeling satisfied and proud that you got it down and that the characters even seemed to come to life.
Try it now (as above!) Consider someone you've seen on the street or in a grocery store and weave a one-page story about him/her employing the idea that that person that you don't know is lazy, witty, tricky, goofy, artistic, lonely etc.
I find and see stories and poems all around me all the time that seem to just be waiting for some juicing up to make them come to life, be real. Much like the kitten that found its way to my brother’s doorstep during a Wisconsin blizzard, those ideas scratch at my door and if I let them in and take good care of them, they may grow up to be healthy and happy (as his cat has). So take a look around and see what's 'waiting' on your doorstep!
And maybe the most important thing is, if you haven’t had the experience of creating something, you’ve missed out on something really good.