Last week, in her debut post here on TKZ, Kay DiBianca asked why we write. As I was typing my response, I realized that she’d inspired me to write a longer bit about writing and motivation.
I avoid asking myself dangerous questions.
Where do my ideas come from?
I have no idea. Where does air come from? Where does emotion come from? Love? Desire? Anger? All of those things are just there. I’m sure there are those who can reduce it all to elements of the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems, but I worry that too much knowledge would take away the specialness. I will say this, though: I am not one who is awash with novel-worthy ideas. They arrive more or less when I need them, but never when I’m trying to think of one.
Why do I write?
I have no idea. It’s certainly not because I have to, in the sense that I would explode if I didn’t. In fact, not writing is a lot like relaxation. Like a vacation. For the past 25 years, writing has been an important part of the family’s income stream, but that’s not why I write. It might be why I sign contracts to produce books, but the actual stories have to come from different folds in my brain. When the time comes, I sit down, and the imaginary friends clock in to go to work.
Is writing fiction an important job?
I have no idea. Having spent thirty-five years of my life as an emergency responder and a safety engineer, I can point to a few specific instances where people didn’t die because I was there to help them, and I can reasonably imagine that systems I engineered prevented harm from befalling people who never knew that the systems were in place. I can talk myself into believing that those things were more important than making up stories and romping with my imaginary friends.
Then, I hear from readers who credit me for making their time in a war zone more enjoyable, or for making their time at a loved one’s bedside more endurable, and I think that this storytelling gig is more than a mere treacle. Maybe entertainment in itself is as noble a profession as any other.
It doesn’t hurt if I don’t think about it.
A few years ago, I had some surgery in my cervical spine that left (very) minor nerve damage in my left thumb. Day to day, I don’t notice it, but when someone asks, or I mention the surgery, the tingling thumb is truly annoying. Along the same lines, I never learned to touch type. I don’t even use all my fingers. When I’m in the zone, I can churn out ten or twelve pages in a few hours, with surprisingly few typos. Until I realize how well I’m typing, and then the virtual strikers get all jammed up at the virtual platen.
For me, the witchcraft that is writing rarely rises to the front of my mind. When it does, I seem to screw up. I go to work, pound out words and pages, and somehow, when it’s all over, I’ve got a finished manuscript. I don’t want to think about my process because I’m not entirely sure I even have one. I worry that asking the dangerous questions might trigger intellectual constipation.
I don’t worry about why what I do works for me as much as I worry that it continues to do so.
When I need a breath, the air will be there. When it’s time to go to work, the imaginary friends will show up.