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Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Do We Write?

My writing group, the High Desert Sojourners, is a collection of wannabee writers, some published, that meets monthly to listen to one another's work, give constructive criticism, and provide support. We bring to the meetings what we're working on or something we have written in response to a prompt distributed the month before.

At our September meeting, the writing prompt for the month of October was, "why do we write?" Since I attended a workshop that month led by Paulann Petersen, Oregon's Poet Laureate, I presented a poem I wrote instead. I was intrigued, however, by "why do we write," and decided after the meeting to address this thought-provoking question in my blog.

I started writing Brute Heart to kill time, with no plot or purpose in mind, let alone a novel. After I had written several short pieces, I saw certain similarities in theme and setting that, with some work, had the potential to be a larger undertaking. At that point my writing took on a life of its own as a research project and a puzzle being assembled from many pieces. I could lose myself for hours, experimenting with a word or group of words until I was satisfied with the clarity, meaning, sound, richness or cadence. Being a lover of words and their limitless potential, writing Brute Heart eventually became my shrink, my hidey-hole, my self-satisfaction, and my nag.

Over time I cobbled together a rough story followed by characters to support the story. Occasionally the characters I created changed the story as did happenings in my life or in the news. All of this greatly expanded the number of puzzle pieces, but finally gave me the picture on the box, and as the story took shape, I began wondering if there might be a higher purpose for what I had written. Since my novel centers on alcoholism and abusive relationships, perhaps one or more persons living with an alcoholic or abuser would find help in the story of a young woman who manages to escape both dependencies, so I kept this in mind as I continued to write.

At some point I began to believe I might have written something worthy of being shared with the reading public. I started paying closer attention to how novels were constructed and what my story had in common, if anything, with those that were successful, which led to a total reevaluation of what I had written. Characters were added or changed, chapters were added, changed, or repositioned, and massive doses of wordsmithing took place in rewrite after rewrite. Now I was no longer writing for something to do or the pure pleasure of playing with words, I was writing for the reading public, and it wasn't nearly as much fun.

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