There are many reasons to write, I think. Some of them I find pretentious–DeLillo’s assertion that we write to shake up the norm seems egotistical. I have nothing against weirdness for the sake of weirdness, but I feel that a work of art should affect a person. It should either help them escape from the world, if only for a moment, or teach them how to better live in it. Ideally, it should do both. DeLillo’s “White Noise” did neither of those things, and I didn’t enjoy it, either. That’s the third one, I think–a good book should transport you, teach you, and entertain you.
I’ve thought a lot in the past few months about why people write. I know I started after my dad’s death. I roleplayed online and imagined being and becoming someone else, and that gave me comfort and a sense of community after the tragedy, which happened to coincide with my first year of middle school. I remember an old English teacher, Ms. Lohse, telling me that people shouldn’t use writing as therapy. She told me she wrote poem after poem about the moon, until one of her friends took her by the shoulders and said “enough already!” Writing is about the story. It is not about you.
Perhaps it is the difference between writing about yourself, and for yourself. No one wants to read therapy transcripts, I don’t think. Well, I might, but not my own. Patrick Jane’s, maybe. Sherlock Holmes’, or Artemis Fowl, or someone interesting and deadly and mysterious. But no one wants to listen to someone whine. At the Boston Book Festival, I remember one of the editors saying that when someone had written a note on their manuscript, something like “this was very helpful for me to write,” or “very therapeutic for me to write,” he took it as a warning sign. He concluded that this was because in cathartic writing, a person does not tend to be in control of their material.
I think there is value in writing for oneself, and if writing gave me nothing at all I simply wouldn’t do it… In the past, putting things into the form of poetry has made them easier to deal with for me, especially when they are read and understood. A good poem is like a punch to the gut, I like to think. But now I want to write something new. If I am going to write, and that is what I have decided, (however prematurely), to do with my life, I want to write in a way that helps people. I want to do what a good book does–transport, teach, and entertain. I want to make people laugh and cry, and to be sent little handwritten notes saying, “This is me. You wrote about me,” when I thought I’d been writing for myself all along.