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To Write or Not To Write . . . That is the Question
To write or not to write, that is the question. This question has been on my mind since I took up the challenge to become a writer; before then, my life was a blur, a jumbled mess that requires nitpicking in order to recall memories more clearly. Writing in itself has changed my life, more than I have changed my writing style and level, which has by itself altered drastically over the years.
People always ask me questions regarding my writing life. Some are silly and unanswerable, while others are thought-probing but also unanswerable, that is, right away. Usually, the one that hits me is “why?” Why do I continue writing despite the pains and obstacles, why do I want to write novels someday, and most of all, why do I even like to write?
Well, unfortunately, my passion for writing is not easy to explain. It needs much delving, contemplation, and, yes, even analyzing before a resolution can be concurred.
First of all, why, generically speaking, do we write? Oh, that’s obvious: if some dull essay is assigned by your English teacher, demanding tons of concrete details, commentary, grammar corrections, and those super-long paragraphs that send anyone to sleep, it must be written properly otherwise no miraculous “A” can sidle its way on to your report card. In other words, we write when we are told to and if there is an outcome. Preferably, a passing grade would suffice.
To the average viewer, that is what writing is for: strictly within school boundaries. True, the world of education and often careers, requires some writing skills. But what does that say to the other realms of writing? I’m referring to possibly the most difficult career: storytelling.
Whether in poetry, short stories, creative essays, or novels, stories live in the minds of all true writers and sometimes transform into words jotted on some scraps of paper which eventually turn into a piece of literature. To all you bookworms out there, you understand the power literature has upon the imagination. I always relish picking up a good book, just so I can plunge deep into the pages depicting another world.
That is where the call of a writer comes in. After I finish reading a great literary piece, suddenly my soul is filled with an unexplained longing that does not go away until I obey its craving: writing. Reading is desirable because you are able to fall into another person’s universe of their thoughts and imagination. There is no struggle, no need to hold back, if you just let yourself go. Writing, on the other hand, is challenging because this time it is you who is creating another world, full of your thoughts, ideas, and vivid imagination. Every time I sit down and write, it’s like I’m allowing my soul to open up and transform itself onto paper. This is my life.
Particularly when creating a story, I am overcome with the magic of the imagination. Characters emerge, conflicts arise, and the story unfolds as my pencil sketches the ideas flowing through my mind. I feel so alive during these periods, like I am on the brink of writing a bestseller or even a classic. But sooner or later this feeling of elation melts away as I confront the first of many issues that are bound to show up: is this my own work, or the remaking of another?
Instantly my entire work goes to waste. Burn this, burn that, start over. But by now I am blank. All I can cook up from the depths of my drained mind are plagiarized versions of other famous stories. Sometimes I meekly bring forth a pathetic excuse of a story: flat characters, cliche troubles, cheesy dialogue, and a childishly resolved ending. Cut this, cut that, think again. Nothing.
Again the question pops up: why? Why must I agonize over this pointless dream? If it only brings me stress and pain, why continue? To write or not to write . . . I have lost count how many times I attempted to avoid writing. There have been days where I lose my grip, throw down my pencil, and declare to no one in particular that I am through with writing fiction. I begin to feel free from the burden; finally, I can spend time reading novels in peace, completing schoolwork on time, and hanging out with my friends. No more of that nonsense for me.
But gradually, my life starts to empty. I may have my friends for company and books for free time, but still my soul starves. The more I read, the more I yearn to write. But even when I cut back on reading, my imagination screams for inspiration until I yield. As my eyes rove across many pages, my imagination discreetly starts to build up fresh ideas and feeds them to my thirsty soul, but that is not nearly enough. Over and over the call of storytelling tugs at my weary heartstrings, like vicious fingers plucking together a tuneless song.
Finally, unable to take the suspense any longer, I sit down, pick up a pencil or pen, and begin jotting down words. Their context does not matter; it’s just words, words, words flowing out of my mind and onto paper. Eventually, they form into sentences, outlines, and, most of all, stories. I forget my boundaries and just let go, hoping for transformation.
By now, reader, you must be wondering about my sanity. Or at the least, my disposition. I, myself, often find myself wondering the same. But so do, I am certain, most young writers go through. For what I just depicted, is, in short, the writing life.
What is the writing life? Seniors may recall that it is the simple title of a book, which is chock full of labyrinthine ideals and advice, by Annie Dillard which we were forced to read toward the end of our junior year in AP/IB English. True, Dillard does record the obstacles of a writer’s life brilliantly in her book, but I am not pointing fingers here. The writing life is more than just a title of a book, and it is more than the thousands of volumes written across the ages by countless authors. It is the lifestyle in which people dedicate themselves to and either give up or keep going.
Writing is not a game. There is no mere success or failure. You just take risks. What is success in writing? Becoming the next J.K. Rowling, or simply publishing your work even if it ends up wedged amongst a hundred other unheard books? To some, success is completion. After all, if it takes a lifetime to write a novel, as long as you eventually end the darn thing and move on, you basically become a writer in that respect.
“You’re a good writer.” Such a cliche compliment. At least, for me it is. Do not get me wrong, I’m not so arrogant as to think my writing goes above and beyond what people have always told me. I merely challenge the statement, probe the words, trying to search for any hidden meanings. As usual, I receive nothing; just the half-hearted notion people use to make up for the lack of words in their vocabulary to truly explain.
But occasionally, I perceive a hint of an epiphany whenever I hear that comment. Writing is not merely good or bad, neither is the person who wielded together the work. The power of writing is not labeled one or the other; there are numerous categories to belong in.
I, myself, sometimes find my work belonging to the “crummy pile” more often or not. Don’t we all? But then I think to myself, “Did Shakespeare write his famous tragedies overnight? Was J.K. Rowling’s original draft of Harry Potter as clever and addicting as the published editions are?” No. Of course not. We are only human. We do not create perfection, not even after numerous, and aggravating, attempts.
I still strive to write fiction, and publish it. When that day will come (if ever), and how much work it will take to finally achieve that dream, I cannot tell. None of us can. But I know one thing: if I can truly find the segment of my soul that has a story meant to be written, and if I work hard enough and long enough, I just might be a success.
Only time can tell.