This morning I had the pleasure of reading The Ultimate Reward by Aaron Paul Lazar. It's a lovely piece about the rewards a writer sometimes fails to discover. It made me question my own reasons for writing. Did I too have dreams of being on Oprah and Larry King? Being on the top of the NY Times bestseller's list? Or gracing the cover of The New Yorker?
Not in the beginning; I still had images of Margaret Laurence, author of The Stone Angel being interviewed in her kitchen with a countertop of homemade jams in the background. I was reeling from the seventies, so my dreams consisted of rubbing elbows with the likes of Stephen King, Marilyn French, and Eric Lustbader. I wanted to sip wine and have long existential conversations with Bob Dylan. I wanted to fly to NYC on a moment's notice; something about my agent having to discuss movie rights with Cheryl Ladd's people. I wanted a villa in France where I could lounge on the terrace with Dire Straits and discuss writing their autobiography.
In truth, I began writing because my father had just died. I was thirty, still full of faith and optimism, and I thought if I could write his story, he would live forever.
Do we ever really know our parent? Can we even imagine them as kids? Separate from us? Real people? I didn't. And it wasn't long into my quest that I realized that. He was my dad. My knight in shining armour. My protector. My hero. And that's about all I knew of him. Three months of banging away on an old IBM typewriter, struggling over what to write, I stopped. I didn't know him well enough to write his story. And I was forced to grieve. Not just for him, but because I had discovered a secret. I had the capabilites to truly give him life, only I knew nothing about his life.
And then one day I realized something. What I did know was my story.
Always Father's Child took seven years of pain-staking work. When I finally typed THE END, I knew AFC would never see the light of day, but I also knew I was hooked on the process. I'd never felt as alive as when I was struggling over every word in every sentence. It felt so good to be stacking page after page on the table in front of me. 500 sheets of the written word held new meaning.
My family thought I was nuts. But how could I vocalize what was happening?
I have no idea why there are those of us who need to write and there are those of us who are satisified simply reading what those of us who need to write, write about. Ooh, if my grammar teacher could only see me now. Whether it's a need or a gift, the jury's still out. One thing for sure, a writer is someone who writes because they can't NOT write.
You'll never hear a writer say "One of these days I'm going to write a book." Instead you're hearing them saying stuff like, "I'm still working on that dang book I started in '93." Or: "Valerie did something really strange today, and now my outline is screwed." Or: "I don't want to type The End because I don't think I can say goodbye to these people." She means characters.
If you have a writer in the family, you have my deepest condolances. They're a strange bunch. But strange as they might be, I bet they're not consumed by the need to write because of dreams of fame and fortune. They're probably just doing what needs to be done. And if they're lucky, they might end up like Mr. Lazar, giving peace and a little diversion to another human being.
Please do check out Margaret Laurence's books. After 44 years, her books are as powerful and beautifully written as the day they were published.