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Why I am a Writer

It seems fitting and proper that every writer ought to have a philosophy of writing, a reason for why not only he writes, but why we should value the art of storytelling as a culture.  I suspect most writers do.  It is difficult to imagine that any man or woman who has spent any time at all agonizing over plot and character and how to explain what is in their heads just the right way, has also not committed some time to reflecting on why we should write, and also read, in the first place.

I offer here the thoughts that have grown from the fruits of my agony.  Countless hours have I spent hunched over a keyboard, or scribbling on paper with a black, ballpoint pen.  This is still my preferred way to tease the stories from my somewhat foggy mind.  And in those hours, and in the even greater agony in between, I have asked myself why I should continue the torture.  But I always come back to the paper, or the blank screen, and now I know why.  Perhaps before you decide you want to read anything I might write, it may help you to know why I write in the first place.

For me, it began with a love of story.  This is probably universal.  I have yet to meet the man, woman, and especially child, who does not like to hear the highs and lows of a good yarn spun by a master storyteller.  It speaks to a place deeper than our consciousness can carry us to, something primitive and essentially human.

I was hooked from an early age.  There was hardly a story or medium I didn’t enjoy.  T.V., movies, bible stories, fairy tales, drama, I loved them all.  Above all, I loved anything magical. 

But for a writer, it isn’t enough to love story.  Writers not only love stories, but at some point, get the crazy idea that they can actually come up with good stories that other people would like to hear.  Rumor has it some people might even pay to hear them.

Imagining stories has always been a part of my life.  I don’t think I could have survived the colossal boredom of elementary school had not my imagination kept me entertained all those years.  Among my favorite escapes were to imagine I was three inches tall and sneaking around the class, or that my pencil was an amphibious vehicle involved in a race to the death with other pencil shaped vehicles.  There were countless others but these were two recurring favorites.  I also passed the time out of school fighting all manner of bad guys in my back yard, sometimes the Russians, at other times I led slave revolts or slayed evil wizards.  I can’t count the amount of pillow cushions I have punched pretending they were pillars of stone or some nastie’s face.  I was often a comic book character of my own devising, UltraMan.  And even at one point I started playing out what I thought was a pretty good prequel to Star Wars, at least a decade before Lucas decided to do his.  My idea was better by the way. 

Eventually, I got into my head that maybe someone will want to hear these stories also.  In fifth grade I set down to write and illustrate my first novel, Geronimo.  No, it didn’t have anything to do with the real Geronimo.  I just thought it was a cool name.

My Geronimo was a multi-greats grandson to Hercules.  And like his famous forebear, he was gifted with superhuman, heroic strength.  In the story, the babe Geronimo narrowly escaped an attempted assassination by his own father, when he deftly threw the knife he was playing with in his crib.  This was my first encounter with the conflict between plot and credibility.  I don’t know why a baby would be playing with a knife in his crib.  All I knew is that I somehow had to get a knife into the baby Geronimo’s hands so he could throw it at his would-be assassin. 

The story was not well received by the critics.  My father didn’t like the fact that the dad in the story tried to kill his son.  My mom thought the pictures with big, red drops of blood were too gorey.

I didn’t finish Geronimo, even though I had slated the series to have at least twelve books, climaxing when the beefy hero gave up his life to hold up the pillars of the world.  But undaunted I continued to write.  In fifth grade I received a typewriter for Christmas and began my next novel, Ice Bridge of the HimalayasIce Bridge featured, predictably, a bridge of ice that had been made by the Devil and claimed the life of anyone who tried to cross it.

This novel was considerably better received.  I decided not to show it to my mom and dad and instead previewed the first chapters with some school friends.  One of the girls that sat next to me in social studies really liked it.  Come to think of it, I guess that made her my first real fan.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to ponder the question of why I wrote.  At first, it was always because I thought the stories that milled about in my head were so frickin cool.  I loved to imagine stories and to watch them come to life on paper.

But then, something happened.  As I grew older, I had to begin to defend my desire to write stories, and especially pursiong that art as a full time occupation.  As a child it was all very cute that I had a great imagination, but as I neared adulthood that very same imagination was seriously endangering my prospects as a productive member of society.  I had to confront all sorts of objections.  Most centered around the impossibility of being able to make it as a writer.  Others were more hostile altogether, citing what an impractical choice of trades the art of letters was or how it couldn’t make any money.  Most damning of all was that criticism that writing didn’t really contribute anything valuable to society.  Sure, it might provide some entertainment and distraction.  But wouldn’t I be better served pursuing a goal that contributed more to life, like medicine or teaching?

So that got the wheels spinning.  How do you justify a thirty-seven year old man who would like to make a career out of telling stories?  It all seems a bit juvenile.  I mean, most of us go through that "writer phase" in college, right?  But we grow out of it and take on something more practical.

Except I never grew out of it.  And here I stand today with a wife and four kids, still dreaming of making a living from stories.  I have the "real" job, though I constantly pursue my first love.  So how do I justify all those hours away from the family, chasing what many would call an adolescent dream?

I justify it by my philosophy of writing.  I know today what I didn’t know then.  Though I may write simply because I love to, that is not the great purpose of writing.  I love to write because I was made to write.  Beyond that lies a great benefit not only to society, but to all of life.

You see, stories are much more than stories.  They contain within them the dreams and aspirations, the highest ideals that a culture possesses.  We write about what we love and what we adore.  The heroes of our stories live the virtues that we value.  They fight for causes that we treasure and hold dear.  They represent the very best of us, rising above whatever darkness stands between them and their eternal quest.  Our stories reach back, far beyond even reason itself, and takes hold of what Richard Weaver called the "metaphysical dream", and when it breathes out of the storyteller, into the world, it takes the shape of myth and blesses the people with an ideal.  Whether this ideal be a grail, a golden fleece, or the power of the gods, it is an ideal, and it serves to fuel the days and nights and toils of an entire race.  Without myths we are lost.  Without our stories we have nothing to dream of and quest after save more money and more stuff.

Perhaps this explains so much of the lostness of our world today.  The stories have begun to fade, replaced by the doldrums of reality television and talkshows, or the incessant obsession with the minutiae of celebrities’ lives.  Perhaps there is still the growing fanaticism of sports and video games, the only vestige we have left of a people that long for heroes and adventure.  But even this is dwindling as more video games emerge that do nothing but emulate real life.

Now more than ever it is crucial to tell stories.  The world is in sore need of that which is beautiful and noble.  As our cities grow more noisy and crowded, as grey buildings rise of concrete and steel, featureless and dull as only man can make it, we create greater need for poetry and myth. 

Most of all we grow in dire need of heroes, of men who are more than human and at the same time all too frail and fallible.  We need that which would inspire us to greatness, an ideal to follow, a grail, a quest, a mournful melody of music that haunts the heart into searching.  We need to know that we can be more than mere men.  We need to know that we have a hero inside of us.

At the end, that is what I want to write.  I want to write of heroes, and perhaps in some way, inspire others to greatness.  In all of my stories you will find great struggle faced with great darkness, but it is my desire that you would also find there greater hope and even greater goodness that rises above the shadows to usher into the dark world a light that cannot be overcome.

Perhaps at the same time you may be entertained.  And if you are, if you achieve a little escape from our increasingly dull and uninspiring world, then that is good too.  But above all, I hope that what you have read has raised your awareness, if just a little, made you a little more aware of the miracle of life that stirs all around you.  And maybe, just maybe, you can find a little inspiration to be great yourself.

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