I write because the sun comes up in the morning and with it my male member, which causes me to rise and make a quick trip to the bathroom. I write because there are facts to reveal, things to describe, stories to tell, and in general things to say about the world that I may want someone to read. I write because something inside me demands that I write, something called infinite space that lies stretched out in front of me that I must fill with something derived from immediate experience and the more primitive collective unconscious. I write because it is dangerous and could cost me my very existence. I write because I love to write.
There was a time when I didn’t love to write, even though I had the ability. Every word seemed to be an extraction as if I was pulling something from my mind, not a free flowing process at all. I thought my writing must have been awfully stilted and inflexible for I had to give every sentence a secret Umph! to get it down on paper. These were the days of countless notepads and typewriters, when, as Hemingway would have said, “Every word a drop of blood.” I’m talking about the Seventies. I didn’t do much writing in the Eighties because I didn’t feel like it. But in the middle Nineties someone gave me a small word processor, and I began writing again in earnest, this time with a freedom and clarity I had not achieved before. However, I got angry at the damned thing and slammed the keyboard with my fist, and all I could get out of it from that point on was garble.
I trashed that word processor and in the year 2000 bought myself an emachine. I don’t know why an emachine, but I took my eight hundred dollars down to Office Depot and bought an emachine, probably because it fit my budget. That computer bit the dust in 2005, and I replaced it with another emachine. I’ve come to love my emachine, and now Iwrite with the lucidity and fluidity of a ball of mercury. No more slaving over an outmoded typewriter. No more paper waste because of typographical errors. No more starting the same page over ten, twenty, thirty times as I’ve done so many times in the past. The computer lubricates the synaptic pathways in my brain and enables me to fill that rushing void with words, wonderful words.
So there it is out in front of me – the vastness of inner and outer space, both seemingly infinite – while I race against time to get these mental explosions on my screen so I can see eternity being filled with thoughts and images, for who knows when my time will be cut short. Who knows when senility will creep in and my mind start contracting as if sucked up into itself at death to meet my presumed Maker. For it is ultimately for my Maker that I write so we may meet in the sweet by and by and laugh at the things I have written that are funny, if there be any, and discuss those things of a heavier note. My Maker admonishes me to write; otherwise, I do not believe I would have the ability to capture my thoughts and feelings in the instance that I conceive them.
Writing is sometimes a slow process, and at other times it is done at the speed of thought, for there are times when my fingers tend to move faster than the keys on my keyboard will allow, as if the ability to type at the speed of thought (instantaneously) was a potentiality. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, I can type thirty words per minute. That seems awfully fast for me, and it seems like I’m typing faster than the keyboard can accommodate. However, my ex-wife typed in excess of sixty words per minute in the seventies. I can’t imagine that, my fingers are too stiff. I don’t know what she can do now, but I’m betting that at the incredible speeds she can type that she is not a writer, although she could very well be one. She’s intelligent and educated. Just because she never wrote anything while we were married doesn’t mean she doesn’t write now. After all, for the thirteen years I was married to her, she swore she would never fly in an airplane. Yet, no sooner were we divorced than she took a flight to Florida and went on a Caribbean cruise. So she could be a writer now.
It seems from appearances that the book industry is bulging at the seams with new artists. You have Borders, Barnes and Nobles, Waldenbooks, and Books A Million, just to mention the few I’m aware of, but I haven’t met any of the writers represented by these stores. Where are all these writers? Why don’t I live next door to one? Is everybody in America writing a book except for me? I write because I have to, not because I want to publish a bestseller. It would be nice to write a bestseller, but witnessing the beauty of an idea come to fruition on my computer screen, then printing it out and submitting it to a magazine is as exciting an activity as I can think of. But now, receiving an acceptance would be a new experience all together.
I write because finishing one piece means beginning another. In other words, I should be finished with this essay, but why should I be if I have something else to say. I could go on writing about any and everything and making it relate to my purpose here of stating why I write. I write because there is always something else to say, and I hope any young would-be writer will see that by reading, not just what I have to say about writing, but what any published writer has to say about the craft, he or she can learn to write intuitively.
Of course there should be no conflict there, because anyone who loves to write should love to read. And writing should be practiced like any activity that demands improvement. If a student had asked me how he could improve his tennis game, I would have probably responded by saying. “practice, practice, practice,” and with practice will come an intuitive understanding of the process, and when you can write intuitively, you will write with JOY in your soul.
Addendum: My creative writing instructor at Carolina back in 1973 wrote something strange on an assigned 20-page short story that I put off writing until the night before it was due the next day. He wrote: “Mr. Mills, you have a fine mind, and it’s a shame.” I got a B on that story, but I knew what he meant by that statement. After he gave the paper back, I went up to him after class and asked him if he thought I would get an A in the course, and he said, “I’ve only ever given one A and that was to Jess Stearn.” I turned and started to walk off with my tail between my legs when he called me by name
again, saying, “Mr. Mills, writing is a lonely job. . . .”
I got a B on that course because I only wrote for the class because I had signed up for it, and there came the moment in time when you had to produce or fail. I know now that I produced sloppy work and he graciously gave me a B. A C would have made me feel disappointed in myself, but I would have been happy with it. I put forth such small effort in those days that I cheered for myself when I got a B. But the biggest disappointment of my college career was getting a D in Shakespeare. I read the plays the night before the test, but I didn’t study my notes the way I should have. I took the instructor for granted, and when I called him to learn my grade, he said, “I’m sorry, but you got a D.” Why didn’t he say, “A big fat D.” You can’t go back and say, “Out, out damned spot – ” because it won’t go away. That big fat D is indelible and lasts forever. I will carry it with me to heaven or into Hell.
Perhaps Poe said it best: “Out – out are the lights – out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm – ”
And so it is when you get that grade you don’t want – the curtain comes down and with it the expression on your face. Your heart plunges and your mind stands in disbelief.
Procrastination – which I have dubbed “The Conqueror Worm” – won the day again. Yet I’m sure it was the muse who sent him to me, perhaps to test and challenge me to a contest where I could only claim mediocre victories. I got a lot of Bs, Cs, and Ds, a couple of Fs, and I believe one A. The reason I say the muse sent him to me wasn’t with viciousness or revenge, but was intended to strengthen me. I new procrastination was my greatest weakness, but I wasn’t able to overcome it until I was ready to tell the truth. And the truth was that I struggled as a writer because I didn’t feel like my use of the language was as “good” as Hemingway, or Mailer, or even Stephen King. I would often be reading them and say to myself, “Why didn’t I write that?” or “Why can’t I write like that?” The truth I had to wake up to was that if I wrote like that – what Hemingway wrote – or I wrote like that – like Stephen King – it wouldn’t be me; it would be somebody else. I have a different set of experiences, different perceptions, different interests, different friends, different travels, different preferences, etc. – I live on the same planet but in a different world.
I write because I’m me, and I can’t stop talking now that I’ve discovered that I have to write like Keith Mills would write, not like Hemingway would write, and the only reason I’m going to bring this to a close is because the maximum number of words for this essay contest is 2000, plus I have other irons in the fire, as they say. So if you want to be a writer, read, read, read, write, write, write, and be true to yourself. And remember, if you can’t impress yourself, you’re probably not going to impress anybody else. So free up your mind by telling the truth and you too may one day say: I write because. . . .