There’s a section in my new thriller dancergirl where the main character tries to figure out why she dances. In a way, that came out of both Alicia’s story ––and my own life. Sometimes, in the dead of night, or the bright light of a sunny Saturday afternoon, when I could be napping or hiking or doing any number of fun things, I might just ask myself: Why write? Why do I drive myself crazy trying to get it all just right? Why not chuck this manuscript into the ever-present trash can on the bottom of my screen—which is always there, taunting me with its siren call: I will take this draft you are struggling with and dispose of it so you never have to look at it again. I can make your plot problems go away with a satisfying crunch….
Of course, I never actually do that. The most I’ve ever done is move the manuscript into a folder and put that folder somewhere in my documents file where I don’t have to see it whenever I open the laptop lid.
A few days, maybe a week, or, as is the case with dancergirl (when I lost faith in my ability to make it work), several months go by. I work on something else, or I put a little extra effort into my rewarding day job as a drama teacher. But the day comes when there’s been enough space or distance or the brain freeze inside my head thaws…and the manuscript calls to me. I’ll start reading--and that’s when I realize, hey, it’s not so bad. Or…there! That’s where the problem is. If I change this…and then that…suddenly, I’ve gotten myself off the wrong path onto the right one. It’s going back with a fresh outlook, an open mind that lets me to find the place where the energy in the book seeped out—and allows me to close that gap.
I’ve been thinking about this because something happened a few weeks ago that truly makes all the hard work worthwhile. dancergirl published in December. I went to NYC for both the holidays and to do some book events: signing at some bookstores, a couple of school visits, and the Teen Author Read at the castle-like Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village.
I used to live around the corner. That library was “my” library when I was directing Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway theatre. Before I ever considered writing books. Before I decided to try writing books. And way before I began those six steps Ilse wrote about on January 2nd. Last week, I walked back into that library with a published book in hand and sat onstage alongside other writers. It was fun. But it did not truly answer the question, Why write?
I’ve heard others answer. Many say: “I have no choice. I must write.” “I have stories to tell and things to say.” “The challenge is what drives me”.” “I want to make a ton of money” (Good luck with that!) or…or… There are as many answers as there are writers.
My answer walked in with a white cap worn over dark curly hair––and a smile that lit up the room. Kristin is her name. She writes a book blog and she reviewed dancergirl. When she saw a tweet about the event, she immediately sent one back: You are in town? I am so there! Kristin came down from the Bronx in the bitter cold of a winter night. After the reading and the Q&A was over, she introduced herself. I took a picture of her with the book I’d just signed and we talked.
She told how much dancergirl meant to her—and why. I told her how much that meant to me–-and the answer to why I write became crystal clear. Despite being an author, I’m still the theatre director I once was—I write for an audience. To make the invisible connection that goes from fingers typing on a page to reader reading.
And so, on those frustrating days that all writers have, I will remember Kristin—and all the possible Kristins in the world. I’ll go back to my manuscripts with the knowledge that by dint of hard work, perseverance and butt in chair, I will figure it out. (In a future post, I’ll write about a method I’ve discovered that can help.)
I’d also like to ask the same question of you: Why do you write? What drives you? The answer may be simple, it may be profound, it may be funny. It does, however, have to be your answer. Ultimately you are the one who has to put butt in chair!