Why I Write

October 27, 2007
By Michelle Coppens, Holly, MI

I gazed out of the hazy bus window and saw only the distorted buildings and signs of small town stores. The edge of the green traffic light was blurred; more like a suspended orb of emerald light than a bulb in a traffic signal. This bus ride, I knew, would be longer than usual, due to our harrowing defeat against Linden. I sat, quiet, staring, noisy bus closing in. Putting on my headphones, I scrolled down to the B’s on my iPod to “Bad Day” sung by Daniel Powter; famous farewell song of “American Idol.” I put mental pencil to paper and wrote this paragraph verbatim in my head.

Many of my inspirations come from moments like that above. Moments that most overlook, I see the minute details and words pop into my head. I’m not in control of my brain when this happens; word vomit pours and splashes onto the page, involuntary and unexpected. An instance such as this is exactly why I write. Looking at my sleeping father, the contrasting of the yellow leaves against the green grass, molding a small yellow ball of sticky tack, and looking through a bus window gives inspiration to an otherwise boring story.

I sat watching my father napping on the worn out couch and suddenly, again one of those weird, involuntary, and completely surprising thoughts exploded in my head: “I have never seen my dad wear a suit, let alone a tie.” I have no idea where this came from, probably a part of the back 90% of my brain that rarely finds a use. Then another thought I couldn’t control and I wish I had never thought of was, “The only time I will ever see him in a suit and tie is for his funeral.” Like I said, I wish I had never thought this because suddenly a paragraph started to form in my head. My father. Where to begin? The man that saves the day, the man that could lift a ton, and the man who could jump tall buildings with a single bound. Many of my friend’s fathers get up at five thirty in the morning to get dressed in a suit and tie for a day in the office. But my dad, well, my dad gets up at four thirty in the morning to get dressed in worn Levis and a T-shirt for a day in the trees. No suit and tie required. Even when he’s not at work, he’s underneath one of his Ford F-700 diesel work trucks, or fixing, or changing, or upgrading some piece of equipment on our ten-acre property. He’s a workingman with no time for a suit and tie. The only time he is going to have to put on that tight, scratchy neck, constricting, formal, wear is when he is taking another form of a nap, the eternal nap, in a cozy coffin.

Some of my ideas disturb me, and some are really quite funny. Some are ironic and others are personal. Yet, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is what I do best. I resemble Joan Didion in a way when she wrote her essay “On Keeping a Notebook.” Only thing is, instead of writing it in a notebook, it free flows in my head crashing in violent waves against my skull, until the deep sea of words is drained through the keys on the keyboard I am typing on now. Didion and I also share the idea of “how it felt to me” (410). How did it make me feel? Sad? Elated? Mournful? It all depends on the mood I’m in that day. Sometimes my mood changes, it all depends on the words popping into my head about the scene I am witnessing. It is one gigantic circular flow in my head, a current, flowing from the scene before my eyes, to the words magically appearing in my brain, to the mood it puts me in, to the next scene I see, and the words that pop into my head given the mood I was in before, and so on and so on.

I have evolved as a writer. Through revising and peer editing, my papers have become more “robust, detailed, methodical, comprehensive, diligent” (Gragg 14) and illustrate that a writer must show not tell. When I go through my papers to edit them, I find it hard. I haven’t trained myself to pick apart the sentences and criticize my own work. I always think, “Oh, I really liked that paragraph.” But then Mr. Gragg or one of my friends reads my essay and they make points as to why that paragraph isn’t my best and that it doesn’t convey the message being sent accurately. Way to burst my bubble.

I am quite disappointed when some of the ideas that burst into my head hit a roadblock. Take for example, the falling leaves that are under my birch trees. I looked out of the dining room window and was disheartened to see the golden leaves on the birch tree falling in the light breeze. But then again, nothing gold can stay (Frost). Upon further viewing I observe how lusciously green the grass is. The gold against the green was a brilliant contrast. But merely this, and nothing more (I believe that was an allusion to “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe which was totally accidental) came to mind.

Mr. Gragg tells me that my narrative summer essay was very “Annie Dillard-esque.” And that is what I did. I took her writing to heart. I focused on nature, and setting, showing that it is an extremely important aspect to the writing world. When I sat down at the computer I started typing. It wasn’t coherent by any means. Essentially, I started writing about my third place in my basketball league in 7th grade. But then (I didn’t even mean for this to happen) a few days later, I took a walk down to the pasture and, well, words busted into my head and hijacked my brain. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I sat down at the computer at 10:30 in the morning and didn’t finish until 11:00 p.m. that night. Even when I had to urinate, I couldn’t pry my stiff fingers from the keyboard and my eyes were imprinted with words. When I closed my eyes, pink text floated across a black background. I’m glad I changed my idea since I ended up getting a 100%.
My writing voice changed when I read An American Childhood. In past writing assignments, I had trouble getting my point across. My essay would be slightly incoherent, or not supported by other texts, or I just missed the mark completely. Though since I have read Dillard’s novel, I have become a better writer by incorporating her strategies into my own to make for better writing.

Not only have I incorporated Dillard’s work into my own, I also use Frank McCourt as a writing mentor. The entire process of the writing mentor was extremely beneficial for me. I enjoyed his style of writing; his poignant tale of teaching and witty diction and banter made the story an easy read. Integrating other strategies from other authors has inspired and encouraged me to become a great writer. Mentor texts in general are important. They show excellent examples of writing techniques and rhetorical strategies and even vices writers sometimes have. The reader can learn from the author and use new strategies to make better their writing.

When we started learning more about voice and diction and tone and syntax and imagery and even rhetorical devices (I’m fairly sure the last sentence was a rhetorical device) I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan. But struggling through the race against time, writing the reading reductions with the ball and chain labeled VOICE on it strapped to my ankle, aided in my understanding and shows in my later essays. When I read, or even watch a movie, I notice all of the voice techniques listed above. Totally involuntary. I am learning to distinguish voice without actually saying in my head: “Okay self, what it the author’s voice in this work?” I can do this automatically in my own writing now without having to make a list and refer to it to make sure I’ve included every aspect.

Oh. Here it goes again. My brain is going into overtime. Just a few seconds ago, I was molding a little ball of yellowish sticky tack. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: one small insignificant act and I blow it much out of proportion. I sat, thinking of something to write for my last paragraph while I was playing with the sticky tack. I pulled it, folded it in two, stretched it out, folded it in two, pulled, folded, pulled, folded… Then I started to notice the many layers I was creating, each layer getting thinner and thinner as I pull and fold. I have no clue why this fascinates me so. Then I started to mold it into simple shapes. First I made a circle, then a square, then a snake, and then a donut. I thought to myself that people are like sticky tack. Malleable in trusted hands; the sticky tack gives between my fingers, trusting that I won’t resort to cruelty, pulling too hard as to break it in half or leave it to harden between a wall and a paper. Friends also give beneath the pressure of trusted hands.
Let’s go to the party.
I don’t know, I’m supposed to be grounded.
I’ll have you back by eleven. Parents won’t even notice. Have I ever let you down before?
People, like the sticky tack can be molded, some more easily than others. Then I thought to myself, “Am I that trusting? If asked would I go against something I thought because I trust my friends?” I have no idea. I thought seriously about this matter. Here’s what I came up with: I have no idea.

See? Trying to think of a couple more decent sentences for the latter paragraph, I played with a ball of sticky tack and ended up writing about trusting your friends. That’s just the way my cerebral cortex works. I can’t help it. That’s why I write.
"This will certify that the above work is completely original."-Michelle Coppens

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