Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The heart of a writer

Last week Terry Teachout wrote:

Writers spend much of their lives alone at a desk, and some of them take to it more easily than others. I'm a reasonably gregarious soul, but decades of silent, solitary labor have created in me a need for privacy that sits awkwardly alongside the conditions of my everyday life. Not only do I make my home on the Upper West Side of New York, a city known the world over for its ceaseless hum and buzz of cultural possibility, but most nights I can be found in a crowded theater, accompanied by a friend and surrounded by colleagues. Mind you, I wouldn't have it any other way. Rarely does a day go by without my marveling at my good fortune. Still, there are times when it gets to be too much of a muchness--too much art, too many people, too much buzz--and all at once I find myself wishing I was anywhere but here.

I had trouble reading that paragraph on the first try because I was nodding my head so hard. I have often wondered whether introspective, "private" people gravitate toward writing as a career or whether it's more often the career that teaches us to treasure the solitude that nurtures introspection and creativity.

I began writing fiction at the age of 45. Alone in the house on a rainy afternoon, I determined to discover whether I was capable of creating characters and making up a story. In that first hour, I felt something break loose inside of me, as though a shell surrounding my heart had suddenly cracked and fallen away. I was writing, and I loved it.

While I believe that even the weakest writer can learn to write competently, I'm convinced that writers are born, not made. I'm not talking about raw talent, but about the burning desire to communicate ideas via the written word. If that hunger is not already sleeping inside an individual, it can't be aroused. Yes, the twin lures of fortune and fame might tempt someone to begin a novel, but even the most powerful ambition to attain those goals won't provide sufficient fuel for the journey unless the writer also possesses a strong heart for the work.

Here's a question for writers of all stripes: How and when did you discover that the heart beating inside your chest was that of a writer?


Kristin said...

When I could first put pencil to paper...1st or 2nd grade. The story assignments were my *favorites*!

I just never really knew I *could* write a whole novel until I was in my early 30s and actually tried it. I knew I loved words. I knew I had a gift. But I never believed in myself until then to think I could someday be published.

Now, I can feel it in my grasp. I think I am very, very close to publishing something.

What is interesting, is now I feeling like I am living up to the potential all of my English and Literature teachers saw in me. Being the person I was supposed to be. And it is very fulfilling.

Marianne Arkins said...

I wrote my first novel at nine years-old -- eighteen long chapters of "A Horse Called Mystery" about a girl and her horse solving mysteries.

I never stopped for very long. And, even when I wasn't writing fiction, I was journaling or writing poems or song lyrics.


I don't think I'll ever be able to stop, but that's okay. I don't want to!

Egan Ehlers said...

I wrote and drew as a child. In both, I tried to create fantasy worlds more exciting than my own. When I reached adulthood, every choice I made in life was aimed toward gathering information and experience to use while writing. I've walked some unusual paths, but I don't see how I can do it differently.

Anonymous said...

i started writing last year around this time, and im 16 years old. ive already written a couple of short stories, i have so many ideas for stories that i cant seem to choose one to concentrate so i can just write that one story, but one day you will se my name


John said...

Hi Brenda,

I too started writing on a rainy morning when I was feeling a bit down. I have always had this urge to put my thoughts into words and to create characters.

Good article. Do check out my website and let me know what you think.


Colleen Coble said...

I was nearly 40. It was after a younger brother was killed in a freak lightning accident, and I realized life is short. If I was ever going to pursue my dream, I needed to get on it. It took me a year to write my first novel and six more years to sell it.

Oh and about your earlier comment--I think writers learn to treasure the alone time. At least that's the way it was for me. I'm a people person but I've found I crave solitude for writing.

Lita said...

I entered my first writing contest when I was five years old...nothing spectacular, but I knew from the time I was old enough to peck away on my dad's ancient computer that I loved writing. My writing was given up for a few years, due to the death of one of my biggest cheerleaders (it just hurt too much to write anymore), but I'm writing again and am SO happy doing it.

God bless!

Kristy Dykes said...

I'm glad I found your blog. It's really good and I hope to be back. Question: why does your right column with your pic start way down at the bottom? Mine is doing the same thing on my blog, and I don't know how to fix it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, everyone, for commenting. I usually try to respond to every comment, but these last couple of weeks have been a little crazy at my house, so I hope you'll excuse me.

A quick word to Kristy: posting too-wide photos or other elements in the main column will cheat the sidebar out of the space it needs to display, so it will be relegated to the bottom of the page. But since there's no photo on the post you're looking at right now, I'm guessing that you have your screen resolution set to display big text--which is pushing my sidebar (and yours) down.

Hope that helps.