Why we write
Over the summer I had the opportunity to attend the Taos Summer Writers' Conference in beautiful Taos, New Mexico. If you've not been to Taos, you are missing out--there is something magical there. I don't know if it's the power of the vortexes or just the piercingly beautiful landscape: mineral-rich high desert land, monsoon-watered wildflowers, a jutting mountain with ponderosa pines and grassy meadows, clean crisp air and painfully blue sky, a gorge carved by the Rio Grande. Or maybe it's the writers' conference itself. It was there, in 2005 when I attended for the first time, that I called myself "writer." That first conference set me on a path to my MFA in creative writing--at the University of New Mexico--and many more opportunities to attend the writers' conference as a student intern. This last summer (my last as an intern as I have now graduated) I attended a class, "The Art of the Sentence," taught by writer Priscilla Long. A prose style class, we practiced writing sentences. We started with compound sentences:
- Julia gazes at the cluttered bookshelf and her body is still.
- Her left leg is crossed over her right leg and her foot swings rhythmically.
- Sometimes I feel thirteen and I feel confused and I am still missing my mother.
Then we worked on WHO clauses and THAT clauses and Adverbial Clauses of time:
- I was the one who needed help.
- Maybe this is the way (that) it is supposed to be.
- After my mother died, everything changed.
We practiced these sentence structures like a pianists plays scales to understand the rhythm, the effect, the feel of the sentence.
This lesson was invaluable (and I highly recommend Priscilla's book The Portable Writer's Handbook, which teaches grammar using accessible language and hands-on exercises like the ones we did in class)....
But the best in-class exercise was seemingly simple. First, Priscilla asked us to read an excerpt from Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk's 2006 lecture where he had employed (rather effectively) repetition of the phrase "I write because...."
As you know, the question we writers are asked most often, the favourite question, is; why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can't do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone....
She then set the timer and asked us to write, responding to the prompt, "I write because...."
We each frantically scribbled away in the airconditioned room at the Sagebrush Inn: a graduate student, a retired elementary school principal, a high school English teacher, a professor (maybe two), a librarian, a journalist, a novelist. We were from different generations, different parts of the country and came in all sizes and shapes. However, when we each shared what we had written, it was so amazing how much we all had in common.
I'm now getting submissions from around the world (well, one came in from Canada), and I've had a couple of days of over 200 visitors to the site. I've had people thank me for providing this prompt (but really, I'm just passing on the gift) and I even had one person tell me it was the first time she had written in four years.
So much of what we do as writers is done alone, pencil and notebook in hand, or in front of a computer screen, but like any artist, we seek connection with others through our words. Help me keep this project going by submitting your own work, or sharing the link with writers you know:
Read submissions from published and unpublished poets, fiction writers, memoirists: http://www.iwritebecause.com
Learn about the I WRITE BECAUSE project: http://www.iwritebecause.com/about/
Submit to the I WRITE BECAUSE project: http://www.iwritebecause.com/submissions/
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By Mark Hudson