Following up last week’s blog, our Blog Editors are back with a conversation on questions about who they write for, what they write about, how they write, when and where they write and, lastly, why they write. Read on for more provocative insights.
Maria Prudente: Hi Joanna! I know we are both busy gearing up to begin our fall semester, but it seems there is no time better than now to go back to basics and discuss who, what, when, where and why we write. For whom do you write?
Joanna Cleary: Hmm… that’s a difficult question. I’ve written for teachers, mentors, friends, ex-friends, unrequited love interests, and complete strangers, but I think first and foremost I write for myself. I’m sure you can relate to the fact that students often don’t have a lot of spare time and those interested in writing have to really, truly want to write in order to make time for it. There have been times I’ve stayed up to 3:00 AM writing when I really shouldn’t have, usually because I only have time to write at odd hours of the day (or night) when on school terms, but I’ve never regretted it the next day. Writing is a joy I give to myself; it reminds me that I’m human, that I feel pleasure and pain, happiness and despair, and all of those more complex emotions in between the aforementioned binary opposites. I write to understand who I am, and I hope what I write occasionally helps those who stumble across it do the same for themselves. What about you – for whom do you write?
MP: A Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, wrote this excellent op-ed for the New York Times where he attempted to answer this great question. He said, “[w]riters, write for their ideal reader, for their loved ones, for themselves or no one. All this is true. But it is also true that today’s literary writers also write for those who read them.” I would agree with all of this. I think we create people to write for and other times we answer directly to people we know will read our work. I find that affects how I write. My writing frees up when I write for a dreamed-up “who” as opposed to an audience of a particular publication but, because our culture demands content quickly it can be tricky and, in Pamuk’s words, perhaps stifle our writerly “desire to be authentic.”
What do you write?
JC: I like how Pamuk acknowledges that all people for whom writers write are valid, as I think the wish to write is too nuanced to be defined in simple terms. I strive to cover a multitude of different topics when I write — from feminism to the body to the landscape around me — in order to continually challenge myself as a writer. In order to do this, I need to write for a variety of people. In terms of tangible projects, however, I want to eventually write a collection of poetry. I find the idea of bringing individual poems together so they can make meaning as a single microcosm fascinating and would love the opportunity to delve extensively into a particular topic or poetic style. And you?
MP: What I strive for is to write about what it means to be human. My non-fiction and playwriting seem to have this shared obsessive quality in exploring the young female living a creative and precarious life.
The content of what I write significantly affects my approach. If what I require the kind of research I can’t pull from my own experience, I find that writing within an outline is beneficial. How do you write?
JC: I pull up a blank Word document, stare at it for awhile, type a bit, get distracted, type a bit, get distracted, edit what I have, and eventually (hopefully) have a rush of creativity that leads me to produce something of substance. I’ve learned about various ways of combating writer’s block over the years, such as writing stream-of-conscious without stopping, but I also think that writers should recognize when to let their ideas come slowly. Often, I quite literally need to lie down in bed and do nothing but think for a solid fifteen minutes in order to make sense of what I want to write. However, I’m always trying to try new techniques, which is why I’m curious as to the ways in which you write.
MP: Whether I think an idea is good or not, if it’s pulling me toward the page, then I write it down; anything is writable. Inspiration doesn’t strike as frequently as I’d like, but when it does, if I can, I will drop when I’m doing, sit down and, write. I’m a firm believer in staying in the pocket and not coming up for air until there’s nothing left to put onto paper. For me, writing requires a particular kind of silence that I can only find at my home. When and where do you write?
JC: I’m actually quite the opposite at times, even though, like I said, sometimes I stay up until 3:00 AM because of a burst of creativity (usually at home, though once in the library on campus during exam season). I find that sometimes it works best for me to leave an idea partially unrealized so I have something tangible to work on when I return. Doing this also motivates me to come back to a project instead of abandoning it for something new, as so much of writing is editing. Reminding myself that I always have material to add to a project helps me remember why I’m passionate about it. Speaking of which, why do you write?
MP: I think of this Henry Miller quote often: “[d]evelop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Unless what I’m writing is a memoir piece, I try to use that as my compass. The why of my writing rests in my desire to make connections and arrive at some truth. I write because I need to. Why do you write?
JC: I write because it feels right. I imagine writing, for me, feels like how hitting a home run, or cooking a perfect fillet mignon, or re-organizing a messy room feels for others — it takes a lot (and I mean A LOT) of work, but I couldn’t imagine feeling as fulfilled doing anything else. Like you, I suppose I need to write. I feel as though people can contribute most to the world by making meaning in the ways they are most passionate about, and for us, that’s through the written word.
That said, hopefully we’ll each have time to do activities besides writing essays and reports in this upcoming term. I wish you all the best as we head into another semester, and I’m excited for the conversations we’ll surely have before 2020 arrives!
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