I've written before about one of the books that made me a writer: L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon, published in 1923 (after Montgomery's better known Anne of Green Gables), which I first read in the early 1950s at the age of 7 or 8. I just finished rereading it (for the umpteenth time, but the first in several decades), crying over the moving parts just the way I always did. (Yes, I cried when Beth died in Little Women too--was someone saying the other day that gender differences are overstated?)

The thing about Emily is that she writes--first poetry, then stories, and without even thinking about it, unsparing and wickedly accurate character sketches of everyone in the neighborhood. In my formative years, I was reading passages like this:

"But there is a destiny which shapes the ends of young misses who are born with the itch for writing tingling in their baby fingertips, and in the fulness of time this destiny gave to Emily the desire of her heart...."

When her severe Aunt Elizabeth forbids her to write, Emily stands up to her.

"'Don't you know that it is wicked to write novels?' demanded Aunt Elizabeth.
'Oh, I'm not writing novels--yet,' said Emily. 'I can't get enough paper. These are just short stories."....'Oh, I must write, Aunt Elizabeth,' said Emily....'You see, it's this way. It is in me. I can't help it.'"

Later, a respected teacher tells her:

'...you're only thirteen. But you don't know what's ahead of you--the stony hills--the steep ascents--the buffets--the discouragements. Stay in the valley if you're wise. Emily, why do you want to write? Give me your reason.'

'I want to be famous and rich,' said Emily coolly.
'Everybody does. Is that all?'
"No. I just love to write.'
'A better reason--but not enough--not enough. Tell me this--if you knew you would be as poor as a church mouse all your life--if you knew you'd never have a line published--would you still go on writing--would you?'
'Of course I would,' said Emily disdainfully. 'Why, I have to write--I can't help it by times--I've just got to.'
'Oh--then I'd waste my breath giving advice at all. If it's in you to climb you must--there are those who...can't breath properly in the valleys. God help them'...."

I've spent the past 55 years trying to decide if this is true for me. I'm still not sure if I'd feel authentic saying it is. Yet I've been writing all that time with as many rejections, if not more, as anyone I know, as many manuscripts in the drawer. First poem published at age 37. First novel, Death Will Get You Sober (which I sure couldn't have written at 25, 35, or even 45) coming out this April. If I had an itch, it's not genetic: both parents were lawyers. Yet something must have been going on.

So how about you?

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I like all the writing I do, but only fiction fulfills me. That's not to say the rest of it doesn't help - I think the fiction and nonfiction complement each other nicely, let me examine the language and make my points and edit - but emotionally, I never feel right unless I'm regularly working on fiction. Without that, I do resent the rest of it. There's that pesky balance thing again!
I envy people who feel driven to write. It's HARD work, I'm slow, and a perfectionist, and I read everything I write out loud before I show it to anyone. I suppose i empathize most with the writer in "Throw Momma From the Train" who got stuck on the opening sentence of his novel for so long that his exwife had time to steal, and write, his story. Before I continue a chapter I'm reworking the last chapter to "get in the mood". After a while I'm only changing a word or two, but nothing ever quite meets expectations. That is a form of torture, you know.

Given that, why do I keep it up? I love the idea of someone reading what I have written and laughing, or crying, at the same places I did when I wrote it. I can picture the reader laughing at my hitmen when Virgil tells Spike "If we don't get him killed soon, we'll have to give back the money." and Spike responding with "Virgil, hit men don't give refunds. It's the code!" I want to know they feel the same desperate hopelessness Molly feels when first committed to the psychiatric facility, and I want to know that they love and admire my lost boys, and my determined little ghost.

I mean it when I autograph my books...

"Without readers, there would BE no writers. Thank you."

Without readers, I'd never write.

Picturing someone enjoying what I write makes me not only write but strive to make it perfect. I don't love writing...I love communicating. Writing is just how I do it best.

:-) Mari
It certainly isn't only fiction for me. I've tended to reinvent myself every so often, and while I've identified myself as a writer ever since I met Emily 55 years ago, I've had long runs as a poet and as a singer/songwriter. I've had the exhilarating experience of making people laugh and cry, as Mari says, in both of those. I sometimes find writing a novel excruciating, because I'm an into-the-mist writer, ie constantly afraid of getting stuck, while the mist--and the process--goes on and on and on. A day that goes well feels terrific--but when I come to the end of a terrific day writing a song or poem or short story (a new form for me), I'm done.
Great thread! And it actually gives me the chance to pick everyone's brain to find the source of a quote I heard some time ago--though I'm sure I'll mangle the quote. Someone once said something along the lines of "If you CAN stop writing, then you should."

Ring a bell for anyone? (Either the concept, or the person who said it...)
Ken, I have an awful feeling everybody says it. It's one of those universal comments writers get--like "get a real job." ;)
Just goes to show how little I get out--I've only hear ONE person say it!
I have been there, done that. I taught in high school for over 15 years, sold real estate, worked in libraries (one for over 20 years), and worked in a restaurant in my teen years. I have had "my real jobs" and can now have fun writing because I have money coming in every month.
It's writing or heavy drugs, washed down with a lot of whisky. It just seems like the most natural thing I do after breathing.


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