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Why I Write

August 15, 2012

Writing is often hard.  All of us have written about that in this space.  Sitting ourselves down, staring at the blank screen or piece of paper can be daunting.  And getting it right?  Producing a piece of writing with authenticity and freshness?  Even more challenging.  So why do we do it?  What drives us down this pothole riddled road of struggle and rejection?  At this time of my life, facing several big decisions about my writing future, I thought I’d briefly catalogue my reasons for wanting…in fact, needing…to write.  What are your reasons?

I’m a storyteller.  I’ve come to realize over the years that I am a storyteller, in both big ways and small.   I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories.  I see myself as a child, a shy, somewhat mousey little girl silently hovering near my mother at those long-ago South Philly gatherings, packed into a relative’s tiny row house and listening, listening.  It seemed to me the more interesting stories came from the rooms filled with women.  “Kids is a nuisance!” one old Italian grandmother would cry before she launched into a story of the exploits of a few of her extended offspring.  Then there were my German relatives gathered outside in a circle of lawn chairs on a sultry summer evening at my grandparents’ house in the country, speaking in their thick German accents about the “old country.” The Cossacks thundering into their Russian town and creating havoc in every direction.  The birthday cake for a five year old during the war years made with no sugar, no flour.  The early days in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen packed into sweltering, noisy tenements.  I couldn’t get enough of those stories.  And finally, I wanted to tell my own.  I still do.

I aim to create a new reality.  I’ve always felt I was born in the wrong era.  I should have been born…oh, say in the late 19th century.  Never mind that I consider myself a liberated woman who would have faced serious challenges in those times.   I first realized this when I was nine years old and given free access to a century old barn packed with interesting cast-off objects.  I wanted them all!  I loved old houses, old books, old things.  My favorite Christmas present when I was 16 was a reproduction of a Sears catalog from the early 20th century.  Can you imagine such a girl?  I studied those pages – the old tin ware and washing machines and corsets!  Was it any wonder that I read almost exclusively from the shelves of historical fiction or books written during an earlier time?  With no luck at finding a time machine, I needed to enter the past through the words of others first, and finally through my own words.  I still am driven to create a new (old) reality.  And I want to share it with young readers so they can visit this place too – just as I so loved to do when I was young.

I love words.  Another present from long ago.  A birthday present for a bookish nine year old.  A simple word game:  a plastic cup filled with dice-like letters.  Shake those letters up, spill them out, and spell a word.  Pretty lame, right?  The neighborhood bully laughed at that gift, but I loved it and even she couldn’t dissuade me, for I always loved words.  I liked word play, making up my own words, learning new words.  The sound of words could make me laugh.  Better yet, the right words from me could make other people laugh.  That love of words has never left me.  Getting the right words on paper is a challenge I still want to take.

What about you?  What makes you face all the towering obstacles set in front of you and simply write?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2012 7:12 AM

    Great post! We definitely would have been friends if we were kids at the same time.

    • Gretchen Haertsch permalink
      August 15, 2012 7:48 AM

      Hi Emilie:
      I’ve already made notes on my next post. The topic was wisely recommended by my (writer) husband. It’s going to center on the best writing advice I’ve gotten and one of those pieces of advice is to write from your emotional center. It felt right to write this blog from an emotional place…with all my weirdness on display. But isn’t it our quirks that make our writing distinctive? I had fun with it and so glad you could relate. Writers all have so much in common!

  2. August 15, 2012 8:35 AM

    Like Emilie, I would loved being your friend as a child. As for your question about what makes me write, the only true answer is: I don’t know … any more than I know why my eyes are the color they are. Maybe the answer is the same … it’s in my DNA.

    • August 15, 2012 10:36 AM

      I thought of you when I wrote the post, Sandy. I loved your description of the great storytellers in your family. Your words inspired mine. Isn’t that the great thing about writing?

      • August 15, 2012 10:53 AM

        I’m honored. Since we missed each other as children (by a decade or so and a thousand miles), isn’t it nice that we’re friends now?

  3. August 15, 2012 11:36 AM

    Absolutely! Women writers are the best — so supportive of one another.

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