Why I Write
“I love the writing life,” was the last sentence I wrote in my journal before I went to sleep last night. And it’s absolutely true – most of the time. Of course, if you flip back through the earlier pages of my journal, you’ll find at least three or four entries declaring my complete frustration and disgust with writing and everything pertaining thereunto. Those entries are absolutely true as well. Which made me start thinking: if I really love writing, why do I get so frustrated with it? If I really hate it, why do I devote so much time and energy to it? Why do I love something so infuriating? Why do I hate something I love so much?
It reminds me of a conversation that my dad had with a friend not too long ago. My family owns a few hundred acres, on which we raise beef cattle. Now, if you go to the grocery and look at beef, you’ll notice that even hamburger is outrageously expensive. One of my dad’s friends recently commented on this, adding “You beef farmers must be making out like bandits!” (Which could be a whole essay in itself – “Common Misconceptions About Farmers”)
Dad gave his friend a weary smile and replied, “Actually, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in years.”
His friend looked shocked. “But beef prices are so high!” he insisted.
Dad shook his head. “That has nothing to do with it.”
“Well why do you do it if there’s no money in it?”
Dad thought for a minute and shrugged. “It’s what I’ve always done, and it’s what I love to do.”
Ask my dad, and he’ll tell you that farming is very much a love/hate relationship. Few things in life are as satisfying as watching the sun set over a pasture dotted with newly rolled hay bales. But few things in life are as infuriating as chasing a whole herd of ungrateful beasts out of the winter hay when they have an entire field of perfectly good grass to eat. Few things are as wonderful as a hot dinner of steak, home-made bread, and vegetables grown in your own garden. But few things are as maddening as chasing said steak out of said vegetable garden (which is probably why she ended up on your plate in the first place).
And yet in spite of all of this – even after a night of delivering a baby calf in the middle of a hail storm, even after spending six weeks rebuilding the fences taken out by a flood, even after being chased around the pasture and up a fence by an angry momma cow – Dad still keeps farming.
Because he loves it.
For Dad, the moment spent admiring the field of hay bales is worth the hour it takes to chase the cows out of the hay and repair the fence. Seeing a herd of new babies laying on a hillside soaking up the sunshine is worth standing in the rain for three hours just to get one of those babies into this world.
That’s why he does it.
And that’s why I do what I do. Writing is as much a love/hate relationship as farming. There is nothing more thrilling than opening a letter that reads: “We are pleased to inform you that we enjoyed your work very much and would like to use it in our magazine.” But few things are as discouraging as a professionally polite: “We regret to inform you that we cannot use your submission.”
There is nothing as wonderful as lying awake at night, mentally rereading an acceptance letter: “We found your poem to be charming, and we would love to see more of your work.” There are few things as miserable as lying awake at night, wondering: “Why can’t they use my submission? Is it just because they have too much material right now? Or is it because it’s really no good?”
When someone learns that I am a writer, there is nothing more flattering than to hear them say “Really? Oh, I would love to read some of your work!” and nothing more aggravating than to hear them say “Oh. That’s nice. When are you going to get a real job?”
There is nothing as satisfying as dropping into bed at three in the morning after finishing a brilliant story or poem, knowing that it’s your best work yet, knowing that you got it “just right”. And there is nothing as anguishing as dragging yourself to bed in utter defeat after searching for four hours for the right sentence and not finding it.
And yet I still keep doing it – even when the mailbox and the inbox have presented me with a stack of “We regret to inform you”s, even when the dictionary might as well be written in Chinese for all the good it’s doing, even when my entire cast of characters is misbehaving and refusing to do anything I tell them to do – I still keep doing it.
Because I love it. Because the thrill of one acceptance letter is worth the disappointment of dozens of rejections. Because the joy of getting one sentence “just right” is worth the agony of an entire page of mediocre sentences. Because one person’s heartfelt comment of “This was really good” on apricotpie is worth a hundred smug smiles and “Oh, that’s nice, dear”s.
Because knowing that my pen brought joy to one heart is worth every heartache that my pen has ever brought to me.
That is why I can pick up my journal at the end of the day and write with total honesty:
“I love the writing life.”