R/W Revised UTNE Reader #3

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Why Writers Write

A Captivating Sampling of Reasons

By Karen S. Rigdon

Inspired by the UTNE December 1998 article, Why I Write

The handknit woolen mittens were laid gently on a bed of dusty, retired magazines in a weathered wicker basket with a blackened wrought iron handle beside the piano. Their roughly hewn beauty captivated and momentarily distracted me from the piano lesson I was teaching. How lovely! Did your mother make them? I asked between the simplistic strains of melody lines. I noticed that the background shading of the mittens was reminiscent of the weary taupe and faded brown shades of weather beaten field grasses in bleak pre-winter days. The random sprinkling of white throughout the muted browns suggested a first flurry of vulnerable snowflakes or perhaps the escaped innards of a lone cattail.

Why do I write of these mittens? The article Why I Write from the UTNE Reader December 1998, caused me to ponder my reasons, the reasons of the authors in the article, and inspired me to interview local writers in International Falls, Minnesota. A stolen glance at a pair of mittens, a fleeting, ordinary moment, was given the gift of immortality by my pen. I can stretch out this brief encounter; I can vivify the woolen mittens, I can make them dazzle as they lie immobile in a basket. I do this with painstaking effort, tasting each phrase, as a chef would taste his finest bisque to be served at a royal banquet. The sense of accomplishment from quality writing is the reward; it is my reason for writing.

In this article, six renowned authors disclose their motives for writing. Jayne Anne Phillips reasons for writing seemed abstruse and cryptic to me: almost an esoteric blur of lengthy mumble. But the child who evolves into a writer is the child in the process of becoming, who moves into position, who receives the bad and the good, who notices, who listens, who remembers, who saves, and he or she first does so for the sake of the loved one, the giant who shines such light and casts such shadow. (Page 76)

Consider the following analogy. When I squeeze an orange I can confidently predict that orange juice will be the outcome of my action. When you squeeze an orange the probability that you will get orange juice is the same as mine. The outcome is likely to be the same no matter who squeezes the citrus fruit.

The extractions of Jayne Anne Phillips motives for writing, from this article, are a different matter. If five people were to read her segment, the interpretations could vary considerably. More often, the writer is one to whom much is given or entrusted, verbally or spiritually, the one of whom much is expected, the one with whom a bond beyond death is forged. (Page 76) My interpretation is that Phillips enjoys the freedom, the lack of censor, and the entrusted responsibility of writing.

Pat Conroy writes, to force [her] way into the world. (Page 77) Her outrageous childhood experiences shaped her style; her mother collected poisonous snakes and her angry father was as militant at home as he was at war. She writes from a place of pain, possibly seeking healing through her writing. Perhaps no listener could bear her draining heaviness; perhaps her paper was the sole non-judgmental listener she could engage.

Well-known author, Elizabeth Gilbert, inherited her writing talent. She was raised with witty relatives who adored her storytelling. Gilbert began to tell stories at a young age and relished amusing her parents with them. Her dominating motivation for writing is to entertain.

My favorite quote in this article is from Mary Gaitskill: Stories are about all the things that mightve, couldve, or wouldve happened, encrowded around and giving density and shape to undeniable physical events and phenomena. They are the rich, unseen underlayer of the most ordinary moments. I get great satisfaction from plunging my hands into that underlayer. (Page 78) I love this quote because Gaitskill makes writing sound almost magical as it probes the depths of simple things. She uses her stories to alchemize the trifle into the extraordinary.

I find a great deal of enjoyment in the weaving of ornate tapestries with the written word. The use of language to animate and enliven a moment, expression, or lifeless object brings me great pleasure. Barry Hannahs opinion in this article reflects my sentiments by saying that language strikes him as a miracle, a thing the deepest mind adores. (Page 79)

In sharp contrast to these heartfelt reasons are the mercenary motives of Mark Jacobson. I write for the money. The only work Ill do is write, I wont do anything else. (Page 79) On a more serious note, Jacobson feels that modes of human expression are limited in their ability to convey different forms of information. He feels that the true value of writers may be to reveal certain truths in the manner that is only possible by putting pen to paper. I agree that this is possibly one of the most important missions of a writer.

This UTNE article sparked my curiosity and I wanted to know more reasons why writers write. I chose to interview two women writers from International Falls, Minnesota. They had just been given an assignment by their professional writers group to draft their reasons for writing. Hence, their answers to my questions had been thoughtfully prepared for their next meeting. Lynn Naeckel is currently writing a journal about her 60th year of life. She said that since attaining fame and fortune from writing was just a remote possibility she did have a few other reasons. I write for the same reason I exercise, mused Naeckel, because it feels so good when you quit! She added that writing is a way for women to be heard, to have a voice.

Wishing to remain anonymous, another member of the writers group said that she cant not write. She said that writing connects her with the divine, helps her to be more fully alive, and is a way to celebrate humanity. To capture who I am, she responded when I asked her why she wrote. Writing about grief and loss is also very important to her.

The reasons and motivations for writing are as disparate as the writers themselves are. Can two snowflakes, two fingerprints or two pair of handknit mittens be identical? The answer is no. We are all unique as well, and have different reasons for the things we do. Those reasons are reflected in the products of our existence, which can include our writings. Perhaps that is the rationale of the intrigue of life.

-- Anonymous, May 06, 1999


Hi Karen, CONGRATULATIONS! Your research proposal has been submitted to Ed Lundstrom on Friday, June 4, 1999! A very complete job you have done and I hope you will be glad to share with other cohort members to encourage them along the way. Way to go! Thank you, Mary Ann

-- Anonymous, June 06, 1999

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