I don’t know how to write.
I’ve never taken a class on writing. I’ve never read a book on how to write. I don’t know anything about forming a plot creating interesting characters. I don’t know if I always use the right words or use correct grammar.
I’m not consciously targeting an audience. I don’t know if anyone cares about what I write. If I’m being honest, I don’t know that I’m very good at it (I’m not trolling for ‘likes’ or for you to tell me that I am. The few people that have/do read the words I send out in the world generally respond well. It’s cool if you do like it, or some of it, or none of it. But I’m not begging for it and that’s not the point). I think that may be because it’s not easy to lay yourself bare to the world. There’s something about it – writing or practicing and art – that lends itself to honesty and leaves the creator vulnerable and lays them bare to the world. Any, and possible everyone is creative and practices art, sometimes without even knowing it.
But there is something people who create art and choose to share it. They are a particular vulnerable lot. And part of sharing is to open yourself up to criticism. And the people that share are not always the people that are equipped to handle that type of feedback.
So why would anyone create art? Why do I write?
I know I’ve touched on this subject, on why I write, and why I’ve put this blog out there into the world. And I don’t presume to understand why everyone practices art, and why they would want to share it. I think I have an idea, but can only really be honest about my experience.
I’ve talked about Kurt Vonnegut before, and how I admired him and his works, and how he’s my favorite author. It’s about time I discussed him in a little more depth, and how he has influenced and informed my writing and why I write.
Why write, though?
When I think back, I know that I’ve always been writing, even when I was younger and even when I did not realize that that was what I was doing. Back to my earliest days, before I ever put anything down on paper I would create stories. I didn’t know that that was what I was doing. Things, thoughts, ideas would just come to me. I’ve said before, if you ask me to sit down and write a story consciously I’ll sit in a chair and stare at the screen or the blank sheet of paper and nothing will happen.
Whether anything that I write or create is worthwhile or not, the things I write about, here or when I write my little fiction stories literally just come to me. It’s almost a separate entity and not something that happens consciously. I actually have very little control over it and don’t know why it happens.
I’ve always had very loud inner voice. I’ve detailed somewhere in these posts that I can be prone to anxiety and depression and how it’s easy for me to feel stress about the smallest of things. And it appears to me that one way I cope with that, or how that little voice in my head has chosen to cope with it, is to create or to almost tell myself stories. It seems to happen independent of what I think of as ‘me.’ It happens mostly at night, in the slight moments between laying my head down and falling into a full sleep. It seems to be, and has been, a way for my mind to slow itself down and make me calm.
Most of my stories and ideas for stories have come out of this process. It’s a thing, and it’s a little odd, but it’s true.
For years and years, as I went through high school and into college, these little stories carried me along and made the bad times a little more bearable.
But I carried them with me, and my overactive inner voice began to think about them all of the time. They began to get in the way of my waking life. I started to resent them. Truth be told, I still do sometimes.
I discovered Vonnegut and his works sometime shortly after graduation from college and started working at a bookstore in Milwaukee. I’ve always been surrounded by books. My parents are avid readers, and both of them have worked for bookstores, my mother especially, who worked for books sellers and book creators virtually all of her working life.
But I did not read KVJ until after college. There is something about Vonnegut’s works that lends them to younger readers, be it high school or college or early adulthood. I’m not 100% sure why that is, though his writings do have an anti-authority slant to them. I suppose I still am, but when I was younger I was all about anti-authority. Ok, I still am that way, but when you get older you have to sometimes bend your anti-authoritarianism to the confines of being and adult and earning a living.
I found Vonnegut at the right time, at least in terms of wanting to put those thoughts, ideas and stories down on paper. I found him to be very accessible, and I thought I could write like him. And while that is not true, he’s Kurt Vonnegut and I’m me, his work encouraged me to get the stories out of my head.
I used to emulate his writing and his style early on when I started writing these things down, and I did it very poorly. The stories I write now do not use his voice. But still, if you look closely (or maybe you do not have to look that closely at all) you can see his influence all over them. And that’s not to say there are not other influences on what I write and why I write and why I would try and create art. But he started it.
I met him once. He was much older, in his early 80’s I think. He was giving a little talk at a smaller college in the Chicagoland area. My aunt had bought me a ticket and I came in on the train from Milwaukee.
I can recall sitting in the auditorium that day. I remember there were a lot of people, but not as many as I thought there would be. I had heard the subject of his talk before. There is very little, if any Vonnegut that I have not read, and I recognized the content from his non-fiction works. It was still interesting to hear them in person. He was in good shape for his age, but if I’m being honest he seemed a beat behind. It was as if it a little extra effort for him to get the words from his brain to his mouth and out. Not much, but a little.
Still and all, I focused on none of that. It was hard for me to take in that this man was only 20 feet or so in front of me. I wondered if it was how people felt when they were in the presence of Mark Twain especially, but really if they were standing in front of any literary giant. I was in awe.
There was a meet and greet later. KVJ stood in the middle as we made a circle around him, people eating cheese and drinking wine. He spoke some more, more conversationally and with more jokes. How I remember it was that people asked him silly questions and hounded him for an autograph. He was gracious enough to sign anything that people put in front of him
As is my way, I hung in the back, gripping a dog-eared copy of one of his works, which one I do not remember. I desperately wanted to get it signed, or to at least shake his hand and say hello and tell him the huge influence he’s had on me.
But I didn’t because I’m me and he’s heard all of that nonsense before. And while I’ve regretted that, it’s not that big of a deal. I was in the same room with him, and got to be around him not that long before he died. And that was a cool thing.
He made me realize that it’s not the end product of art and specially writing that necessarily matters. Do I want people to look at my writing? Sure, absolutely. I’d prefer to do this and to write my little fiction stories and get paid for it. I work for a good company and get paid a fair wage, but obviously if I had a choice this is what I would be doing all day and not that.
So why do I write? I have to, honestly. It’s what has kept me sane. The stories I create in my mind to calm myself at night threaten to overwhelm me during the day. Getting them out onto paper or a computer screen empties them out. There’s always a fresh batch that will fill my head up. It can be frustrating and I think it’s a little weird but it is what it is.
But then why put it out there? Why make myself vulnerable, when one of my least favorite things to be is vulnerable? It may not seem like it sometimes, but I do not really want attention, at least not in real life. I want to stand in the corner and in the back and observe. I don’t want to be in the center.
But here I am. Because maybe I’m not so weird (I am). To do and share art, no matter how well or poorly, is to share a part of yourself and part of your humanity. To contribute something to whatever this thing – life – is. And the more we share our art with each other, however you define what art is, the more vulnerable we are to each other and the more commonality we may be able to find.
KVJ was a humanist. I don’t know if I am that, but I like it.
If you are so inclined to read any of his works I’d start, of course, with Slaughterhouse Five. But don’t sleep on his short story collections or his non-fiction work.
I write because it’s necessary to me. Sometimes I wish it was not.
So it goes.