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Last summer at the Grand Lake writing retreat, I facilitated a workshop called “Wait, Why Are We Doing This?” in which we explored why we’re compelled to do this crazy thing called write. To get us started, I showed a clip from a documentary, The Stone Reader, which is essentially about the power of books. In the clip, Moskowitz talks about coming upon Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in a quaint bookshop as a boy, buying it for 75¢, and being blown away. He says: “I couldn’t believe people weren’t just standing there shaking Catch-22 and talking about it. Why read anything else?”
After we watched it, we wrote and talked about the first time we could recall truly loving a book. The book for me was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It’s the first book I remember reading by myself; it inspired me to write a poem about a rose garden on a piece of my pink stationary, which until then had only been used to write letters to friends from summer camp. Looking back, I found myself wondering: how had I known what a poem was? And who did I think would read it? Did I even think about someone reading it, or was I simply moved to put pen to paper without thought of why?
The reason I’d designed the “Wait, Why Are We Doing This?” workshop was because, of course, I’d been having doubts. Often, I have doubts. I grapple with rejection, I worry about not being able to find an audience for what I write, I lose sight of why I started writing in the first place: because it brought me pleasure to do so.
When I wrote my rose garden poem, I was young. Too young to think about craft, or purpose, or cadence, or resonance. Or whether a piece of writing was “good” or “bad.” Or how many poems about a rose garden had come before mine. I still lived almost entirely within myself, and my earliest writings came from that place. Having moved from that place, having grown up and gone to various schools and become aware of the literary world around me, a world I strive to be a part of, I’ve become a better writer. I know this—and yet, I wonder sometimes if maybe a little of that early magic, that pure enjoyment of the act of writing, has been lost.
Robert Olen Butler, in his book about writing fiction called From Where You Dream, says, “The desire to give voice and the desire to be published sometimes feel like the same thing, but they’re not.” This quote strikes a chord because it’s something I have to remind myself of again and again. Butler also says:
You know, it’s easy to get caught up in the ambition of being a writer. It’s easy to get caught up in loving literature and wishing to be the person on the dust jacket. This ambition, as innocent-seeming as it is, can very easily muscle out your deeper, more delicate, more difficult ambitions. It can muscle them out in favor of: I want to get published, I want to be famous, I want to win a prize. …even ‘I want to create art’ is a bit of a dangerous ambition. What I want to nurture in you is the impulse: “I’m ravished by sensual experience. I yearn to take life in. My God! I’ve got this sense that the world has meaning. Things roil around in my dream space, and I’ve got to figure out how to make art objects of them.” That’s really the best ambition, to be hungry for sensual experience in your life.
Every time I read Butler’s words, I’m brought to a resolution: to nurture that old urge to write for the sake of writing. To pay attention to the roiling and not worry so much about the end result, or audience. To visit, from time to time, with the girl I was, the child who fell in love with reading and writing, when it was just me and a pen and a pink piece of stationary, with no imaginary reader yet perched on my shoulder.
“Resolution Write” is a blog series offering writing tips from Lighthouse faculty and members. We’ll feature posts throughout January to inspire writers who’ve resolved to make 2015 a productive and successful writing year.