SHAREN FORD ON: THE COMPULSION TO WRITE
It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times — what is it that compels me to write? Why, when it sometimes feels like some form of self-inflicted torture, do I persist in sitting down in front of a keyboard to try to tell a story? After giving it a great deal of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the answers might just be that I’m human.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that Homo sapiens’ need to tell stories probably began with the origin of language. Our ancestors would have communicated the news of the day through their stories, as well as using them as a way to pass along the collective wisdom. (Og was fooling around with a big rock and a sharp stone and he came up with a wheel. And guess what? He found out round wheels work better than square ones!)
No doubt, human nature being what it’s always been, every time the story was repeated, it would have been embellished and tweaked to make it just that little bit more interesting. (When he wouldn’t stop chipping away at that rock, Og’s wife hit him over the head with a bone!)
I also fantasize that not everyone who sat around the campfire felt the urge to speak up and tell the stories. My guess is that Og’s tale would not have been recounted by the best hunter or gatherer in the group. The ancient storyteller of my imagination, who could just as easily have been a female as a male, was probably not the type to lead the way into dangerous territory. More likely, he or she would have been inclined to hang back and observe as others charged ahead. This is all my personal speculation, of course, but there is one thing I’m absolutely sure of … even though the storyteller may have lacked boldness, he or she would definitely have been a great listener.
When the men returned from the mastodon hunt, each with their own version of what had happened, the storyteller would have listened eagerly to them all. Later that night, the clan would be held spellbound as she wove all the details into a story … one with a beginning, a middle and an end. And, as they listened to the tale, the wide-eyed young ones, too small yet to face such dangers themselves, would learn the important lessons that would later help them to avoid some of their fathers’ mistakes. In such a way, I like to imagine, storytelling may even have played a part in the evolution of the human race.
And so, I’ve become convinced that my own need to tell a story springs from that primeval desire to organize life’s chaotic details into a coherent whole, one that will explain all its inherent dangers, not only to others, but also to myself. It turns out that the answer to the question “What is it that compels you to write?” is simply this: it’s in my DNA.