Notes: Why We Write

"I wrote my world and, in doing so, felt myself participate fully in its unfolding...my drive to write is the same--language, penned to paper binds the inner world to the outer, satisfying my desire to unite with creation." - Elizabeth Andrew, Writing the Sacred Journey

A few days ago, a fellow RWW participant (who's name fails me... I hope my memory returns when I've had more sleep) asked me about my email addy (word.binder) which bears little resemblance to my name (in any of it's iterations). She asked if I was into book arts, and I said No (although I really think book arts is cool and wouldn't it be great to have time for it?).

I told her about my blog and how my writing is about bringing all my many worlds/experiences into one space. ElizabethA resonates that idea while pointing out to me that the "one space" isn't really here at this blog, it's here in me. She goes on to say:

"When we write with the professed hope of helping others, I suspect that many of us are really writing for our former selves...what we are writing is the book we wish we had read during our own trying, formative experience...writing for oneself seems selfish, so we obscure our real motivation with the altruistic desire to help others. In fact, writing for one's self is noble. Each of us is worth of that generosity."

This goes back to what I think about "Tao Po!" the practice of declaring "I am a Human Being." Not a human been, past tense, but a human being, or better, human becoming. I write to say to myself, "these are the things that have happened to make me, me, in all my multiplicities." This sounds incredibly arrogant, to declare my story as somehow significant, but when I teach Tao Po!/Tuloy, I am also encouraging others to write their story because we all need to know our stories are important. We each make a difference, especially when we own, declare, and become better because of that owning and declaring of ourselves.

So what makes all this more than navel-gazing confessional? Jane Yolen notes:

"Every writer has three responsibilities: first to the story, second to yourself, and finally your audience."

To which ElizabethA expands to: "For writers of spiritual memoir, story is not something born of our imagination or of history; it's the very stuff of our lives. It is the aching and questing of our souls."

Heavy stuff, but again, something that resonates - while at RWW, I noted several times that writing non-fiction was a compulsion for me, something I'm driven to do in a way different from writing poetry or fiction. All the genres are about Story, but non-fiction is about claiming my own story without the shields poetry and fiction provide. Writing non-fiction makes me aware of the themes and questions I'm working through, allowing me to find the meanings I'm trying to learn and articulate.

JaneY's quote, though, points out one very important thing I need to remember when I write - Story First - because every understanding hinges on how fully engaged I can be with the story I'm telling/sharing/writing. I can't just say - I was 13 and on a road trip to Richland, WA when the sky opened up and felt totally connected to God and the world in that Dandelion Wine-Ray Bradbury way. Just stating the story short changes the experience for me and the reader, and we both need the story to unfold in a meaningful way in order to be in the place of honor provided by the well-told story.

"When memoir writer's are responsible to the story, they honor that which is vital and true - the spirit - within their experience." - Elizabeth Andrew

What greater reason is there to write than to honor that which is the human experience?


Lissa said...

hi Bec! I've been going over my 2/3 written novel, which i last glanced at in 2007 (i let it go for a while to finish the biography and deal with writing insecurities ha ha). it was funny realizing that in writing fiction, i was making such a bald illustration of myself! so i totally resonate with how you feel about non-fiction writing, except with me, it very unconsciously came out while writing fiction. i had to be the third person for it to be so clear and devoid of the sentimentality i am often prone to when writing non-fiction. i wonder sometimes, though, if i'm "cheating," by writing what i think (albeit unconsciously). i have read somewhere that "I write to know what I think." But like your friend said, we should know that our lives are worth writing about and deserve to be heard. reading about myself within a character i'd created was a surprise and a gift. any thoughts on that? many thanks, lissa :)

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Hi Lissa, Thanks for dropping by!

I think it's great that you discovered something about yourself in the processes of writing and reading your fiction piece. Sometimes our own experiences can be too overwhelming to tackle head on, like in creative non-fiction, so having an interest in fiction writing helps with that.

I love what you say "I write to know what I think" as I think it applies to all the arts.

As for sentimentality, I get where you're coming from, that sense of making ourselves look better on the page than we really believe. One of the things that was reinforced for me at the residency was this idea of self-implication - we can avoid sentimentality if we implicate ourselves, show how we participated in the pain and suffering we experienced.

One of the mentors of the residency says that to begin revising a piece of nonfiction, ask the question "What question am I trying to answer?" How deeply we engage this process will minimize the shallowness of sentimentality.

Hope that helps! :)