Today in class I told students that I would answer any question they posed to me. I instructed them to write their question on a piece of scrap paper and then fold it in half before handing it in anonymously. During the last few moments of class, I read through each of the questions and gave an immediate response without filtering my answer or trying to project a professional image. Of course many of the questions were related to the course: How do I get an A? or related to something that I had stated prevously.
However, some of the questions were personal: What's your favorite color? (Green) and Which writer do you most admire? (Toni Morrison). There was one question, though, that really made me stop and think and that question was Why do you write? Yes, it would have been easy to give a quick response but this question, in my opinion, deserved reflection, so here is my answer:
I write because I understand the power of a single voice. I have witnessed how people have tried to silence me and others with their good (and sometimes not so good) intentions. I have heard comments like: Don't question or Good girls don't talk about that! yet I still had questions and there were things I wanted to talk about and I knew that I wasn't alone, so I wrote to ask the questions that I needed answers to and to begin the dialogue that I needed so deperately to be a part of.
A good story can be a catalyst for personal or societal change. There were times when I finished reading a poem, short story, novel or play and it made me have a better understanding of something or of myself and made me want to change. I write thinking that maybe there will be one idea in my writing that will make a reader think differently about something or feel affirmed about something else.
Years ago when I was a student, I actually believed it when my teachers told me that the pen was mightier than the sword and that words are indeed powerful. I had the audacity to think that I could make a small ripple in our world by sharing my ideas in writing.
As a child I wrote because there were things happening in my world that I couldn't explain, so I put pen to paper and poured out my heart. For years I kept diaries and then journals and I hid them away so that no one would know what I was thinking deep down inside. As I got older, I realized that I had the right to feel anyway that I wanted to feel and if someone didn't agree with me it didn't mean that I was necessarily the one who was wrong.
Even now I sometimes write to process my emotions because they are too strong and too powerful to express in words because when I speak the words may come tumbling out of my mouth without my having an opportunity to revise or amend. When I write my feelings down, I can read over what I've written and decide if I need to add or delete any part of my message. Maybe it's a cowards way out, but I've seen how harmful unwieldy words can be. People have always said that sticks and stones can break bones but words can never hurt, but they lied because words have the power to kill. A word said carelessly can kill a dream, a spirit or a relationship.
So I write to find the truth in a situation and sometimes I write just to find my truth.
It may sound dramatic, but I write to stay alive. If I did not have a way to express what I was feeling or to question those things I had doubts about, I would die. Perhaps not a physical death, but a slow draining of my creative life force. I feel like I would become just a shell of who I was created to be.
Not all of my writing is public, nor should it be. A great deal of my writing is between the pages of my journal and there are other things that I've written that I may share with readers in time, but I don't write to get published. I write to somehow make it right.