I wrote my first story about thirty-five years ago. “James Knipp’s Pencil” was a raucous tale about a young man losing his virginity, with the Pencil being a not-so-subtle metaphor for my…wait…sorry, I’m misremembering. This was actually the rewritten version I made ten years later when I was going through my Porky’s phase.
The plot of the actual story is pretty much covered in the title. It followed the journey of my pencil from its birth in the graphite fields of South America to its sad and lonely end stuck beneath the metal grates outside of Mary Ethel Costello school (even at age ten I liked those emo endings). My teacher, Mrs. Kachur, loved it, and I earned an A. More importantly for a little attention whore such as myself, I was asked to read it in front of the class AND publish it in our grade school newspaper.
That was the first bite of the writer bug. Really, from that point forward, I considered myself a writer at least part of the time. I would drift away from that dream at times – sometimes due to lack of interest or lack of time, almost always from lack of confidence. And then I would be bitten again; by a story idea or an especially good D&D game or an author who inspired me (by either being really good or really bad!), and I would be back, clacking away at the keyboard.
The act of writing itself has always been somewhat torturous for me. I could probably write a novel just on the number of things I use to distract myself from getting started: Facebooks to check, checkbooks to face, snacks to eat. No kidding, in the three hours I worked on this post, I hit the bathroom three times, the kitchen twice and wasted an hour looking for clips from the Simpson episode “The Book Job” to highlight my point about distractions.
And every time I do this. Every time I surf the internet or watch “The Fifth Element” for the fiftieth time, or walk away after writing one sentence, I get this little sliver of guilt that pierces my heart and settles in my gut like bad seafood. Writing makes me moody. When it’s going poorly, that guilt washes over me and I become whiny and self-pitying; when it’s going well, I become remote and snappish because all I want to do is get back to the writing and everything else – work, family, friends – are distractions.
So why do I do it? Why do I put myself and my family through all the self-doubt and moodiness for something that’s earned me exactly no coin (and likely never will?) Well part of it is that continued feeling that I’m meant to do this, that I was created to tell these stories and doing anything else would be a betrayal of my destiny.
Another reason goes back to that whole attention whore thing. I love the comments and compliments on my blog. I love reading out loud and seeing the rapt faces of listeners as I draw them into my story, and hearing that moment of silence right before the audience begins to clap. To knowing that – whether it’s a handful of other authors at my writers group or the audience here at KnippKnopp or a single editor who tells me “I can’t use this, but I liked it” – that I’ve impacted them in some infinitesimal way. When it comes right down to it, I’m a freakin’ Diva. Just wait and see, if I finally become established, you’re going to find me stumbling out of clubs at 2 AM with Snooki and Paris, flashing my naughty bits as I fall drunkenly into my limo.
But there’s more than that. (God, I hope there is!) If it was really just about becoming the center of attention, I’d become a politician or start my own reality show or write a blog. (er…wait…scratch that last one). When I really write, when I finally drag myself to the keyboard and filter out all of those distractions and the words finally start to flow on the page, I’m transported. I’m no longer a fortysomething, overweight, project manager with self-esteem issues, but a creator of worlds, a maker of people. The world around me falls away, becomes far away and unimportant. I’ve never done drugs, never even been drunk, but I often think this feeling – of being elsewhere, of being part of something bigger – must be similar to getting high, and I can understand how addictions happen. I can stay there for hours, and when I come out I’m usually exhausted, starving, disoriented– like someone coming back from a long trip. Maybe when it comes down to it, writing is really just this safe-boy’s drug of choice.
So ultimately, this is why I write. Because when that journey is complete and my discoveries shared, I know I’ve done something almost magical: I’ve breathed life into clay, created something uniquely mine. Something that is a part of me, almost in the same way my children are part of me. And something that maybe – just maybe – if I’m good enough, might be read for generations to come, affording me a sort of immortality shared by few.