Why we write

I was talking to my friend, Stan, the other night about what’s going on in our lives. We hadn’t caught up in a while, and he was telling me about his realization that God is working good things through the very things that are making him miserable. We’ve always been pretty real with each other and were sharing some deep stuff. I’m not sure how we got on the topic of writing or what makes us feel better about getting our thoughts on paper (or computer), but he said something that really stuck with me:

“We write from our brokenness.”

I’d never thought of it that way. But as I look back over the course of my life, I realize that I have always had some sort of writing outlet. When I was a little girl, I kept a diary. It was a silly little-girl diary, with mundane things, wishful thinking, secret crushes, and imaginary conversations I wished I were brave enough to have. I don’t have that diary anymore . . . as I recall, I rediscovered it in my room when I was in high school, read through it, decided it was crap and tossed it in the trash one day.

When I was in high school, I kept an informal journal/diary in a spiral-bound notebook. High school meant writing real things. Worries of not being smart enough (I was), as pretty as most of my friends (I was not), or successful enough (I was, in the areas I was passionate about). Serious pain and heartache borne of the intensity of young “love,” mean people, and parents who didn’t understand that I, as myself, was enough even though I was not a clone of my older sister. I wrote from my brokenness, even though I wouldn’t have put it into those words at the time. Everything inside me was poured into that notebook, which became two notebooks, and then three—until my mother read through them one day and held my private thoughts against me. I waited until I was alone one day shortly after that, took the notebooks to a private area behind our neighborhood playground, and burned them after reading through them one last time. I didn’t dare write from my brokenness again, because that would only provide written proof that could be used as ammunition against me.

As a young adult, a few years after I was married, I was part of a women’s Bible study that required us to journal on a regular, if not daily, basis. So I journaled. In fact, I journaled my butt off. But when I found that particular notebook many years later, I flipped through it and realized it wasn’t about me at all. In fact, I didn’t recognize myself in the writing. My first thought was, Wow. I must have really been deep at the time. This is some profound stuff. As I read further, though, I came to the realization that I had been writing my “private” thoughts in that book with the idea always in the back of my mind that someone else would find it and somehow end up reading it. As a result, I was writing what I thought would be approved. Safe. Not open for judgment.

Basically, I wasn’t journaling anything that would help me at all. And I didn’t write for years. Decades, actually, because life with four children doesn’t allow a lot of time for self-reflection. We’re busy keeping the little people alive and healthy—which is a good thing—and are completely absorbed in the needs of others to the point of ignoring ourselves—which is not a good thing, but it happens all too easily.

When I started writing again, it was on SparkPeople, where people were encouraged to share their fitness-related struggles and achievements. I tossed a little post on my profile page one day and felt as if I’d exercised my brain in a way I hadn’t for years. It was a release and an easy expression of me. I deleted that account after a couple years of use, but it had served its purpose: I caught the writing bug again.

I later began my editing blog to get my name out there and to give writing advice from a copy editor’s viewpoint. Again, I felt at home. The posts ranged from serious advice to author interviews to the completely silly (but such a blast to put out there). That blog has gained me more than clients; it’s provided me with long-term friendships, solid acquaintances, and a sense of community that has nothing to do with politics or anything controversial—only like-minded people with a love of what we do best. When I had to take a break from it due to busyness, it killed me to be away from it. Starting up again put me back where I belonged.

Somehow I ended up with this blog as my personal one. It’s been a good one for me, because I can write like myself once again. Yes, I do filter a bit, but not much. For the most part, I figure I write for me, and if anyone happens to read it and gain something from it, that’s a bonus.

And that brings me back around to my epiphany, courtesy of Stan. We write from our brokenness, he and I. Not everyone does. For me it’s a regular thing. When something happens and I need to process it, I write. Everything that’s on my mind comes through my hands and onto paper, or into a document on my laptop.

It’s kind of funny, because when I’m happy, I tell people all about it. I can’t help but share my joy or excitement about something great. But when I’m sad or hurt or angry, I write. Maybe there’s something in me that says, Don’t scare everyone by telling them how you really feel, because you may say something you’ll regret, and you won’t be able to take it back. When I write out my sadness or frustration, I can reread it and think more clearly. I process what has happened, review it, and figure out how I’m going to respond. Or I process it all in writing because in some cases, there will never be an opportunity for resolution.

Recently, I shared some of my deepest thoughts with a friend in a heartfelt letter, only to have a third person read them (without my permission), misinterpret them, and use them against me. Once again, writing from my brokenness was invaded by someone who took it upon themselves take ownership over something that was my own, intended for another. Believe me, there is not much worse than having our own words used against us by those who don’t have the first clue as to where those words stemmed from, the history and emotion behind them, or why they were written.

And yet, I continue to write. Brokenness leads to healing, and if I write from the former, I trust that it will provide the path to the latter as a result. Writing serves the dual purpose of not only getting it all out, but of providing a way for me to look back and realize how far I’ve come.

And that “looking back” thing? That’s why we write.

 

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6 thoughts on “Why we write

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  1. I am sure I write from my brokenness as well, but I think I write from a sort of wholeness, too. It’s as if writing brings the broken pieces together or allows them to communicate. This allows for some amazing discoveries. There’s a character in the story I’m writing who has said some deep things, and after my fingers got done typing (and sometimes later) I’ve thought, “Wow.” While what he says applies to the story, I have done the same thing in other kinds of writing. The mind works on it and comes back with a whole that is somehow greater than my brokenness.

    1. I love hearing people’s stories and finding out what motivated them to write a certain thing, or in a certain style. How boring it would be if we were all the same!

  2. When I first started writing novels (I always intended to, just got an earlier start than retirement due to circumstances), in the waning years of the last century, my intention was to write mysteries. Mysteries with a literate background, like my favorite British mystery writers (Dorothy L. Sayers in particular). And I did. Didn’t get the first one published (still had a lot to learn!), and was halfway through the second when I got PC vouchsafed to me in one fat story I’m still working out.

    There was brokenness in those first mysteries, but they were safe for public consumption – I censored myself quite successfully, used a lot of ideas from my life to make them… different. I may have the energy to go back some day.

    But the current is full of me, in all three main characters especially, as I sought to make characters real. Something I thought could never happen had me asking Why not? and Under what possible circumstances could this ever be real?

    You write what you are, as well as what you’ve ever read (which is why it’s good to get the classics into the kids before they start complaining). If it weren’t so important now, I’d never find the strength. I hope I am given the life to finish. Weird as that may sound – that part’s not up to me.

    So publishing has been the biggest act of will in this century – and I’m still at it. Because I found out that I’m not the only one, and, more importantly, that most people can’t put their thoughts and feelings into words. Most. All those writers who filled my years were among that small percentage of people – and their influence is felt dramatically. I’m honored that I’ve been called to be a writer.

    1. I do believe you write what you are, and at the very least you write what you’ve read. If you’re not a reader, or you only read garbage writing, you’re not going to be a phenomenal writer unless you broaden your horizons.

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