On the second anniversary of the publication of Word for Word: A Writer's Life, I'd like to reflect on why writers write.
Years ago I read the late Carolyn Heilbrun's brilliant little book, Writing A Woman's Life. In it, she mentioned the ways women's lives are written: as a memoir, as fiction, as biography, and as something else: "the woman may write her own life in advance of living it, unconsciously."
By then I had written Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, a biography as well as a book about the kind of life I wanted to live.
Writing in the 1980s, Heilbrun, a literature professor at Columbia University, stated in her book that few works about women's lives dared to truthfully portray their anger and ambition.
Inspired by Professor Heilbrun's words, I drafted an essay, "Why I Write." It was for a voice, I wrote at the time, a strong written voice that, unlike a spoken one, could not be ignored, interrupted, or voiced over. There were other reasons, too, like remembering what I knew and expressing what I thought.
When I eventually wrote a memoir, my challenge was to be as brave and honest as Heilbrun had urged, and I'm glad some readers thought it was courageous. Interestingly, the professor never wrote a memoir herself but portrayed a more adventurous self via a fictional alter ago in mysteries written under a pseudonym.
No longer the youthful writer who wondered why she really wanted to write, I know now that my writing is a desire to order thoughts and express emotional truths. And it's still about the importance of voice: its volume and velocity as well as its possibilities for revelation.
With warm regards,
More By Writers on Writing:
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (1934)
Why I Write by George Orwell (1947)
On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion (1966) in
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick (2001)