Why I Write ~ Michelle McGrane

WHY I WRITE ~ Michelle McGrane

I want to share one of my favourite excerpts on writing with you. It’s from an essay by author, naturalist and environmental activist, Terry Tempest Williams, entitled “Why I Write”, one of over thirty insightful pieces included in the volume Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard (Writer’s Digest Books, 2001).

I can’t put it better than this:

“I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create red in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. I write to honor beauty. I write to correspond with my friends. I write as a daily act of improvisation. I write because it creates my composure. I write against power and for democracy. I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams. I write in solitude born out of community. I write to the questions that shatter my sleep. I write to the answers that keep me complacent. I write to remember. I write to forget. I write to the music that opens my heart. I write to quell the pain. I write to migrating birds with the hubris of language. I write as a form of translation. I write with the patience of melancholy in winter. I write because it allows me to confront that which I do not know. I write as an act of faith. I write as an act of slowness. I write to record what I love in the face of loss. I write because it makes me less fearful of death. I write as an exercise in pure joy. I write as one who walks on the surface of a frozen river beginning to melt. I write out of anger and into my passion. I write from stillness of night anticipating – always anticipating. I write to listen. I write out of silence. I write to soothe the voices shouting inside me, outside me, all around. I write because of the humor of our condition as humans. I write because I believe in words. I write because I do not believe in words. I write because it is a dance with paradox. I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in the sand. I write because it belongs to the force of the moon: high tide, low tide. I write because it is the way I take long walks. I write to bow to the wilderness. I write because it can create a path in darkness. I write because as a child I spoke a different language. I write with a knife carving each word through the generosity of trees. I write as ritual. I write because I am not employable. I write out of inconsistencies. I write because then I do not have to speak. I write with the colors of memory. I write as a witness to what I have seen. I write as a witness to what I imagine. I write by grace and grit. I write out of indigestion. I write when I am starving. I write when I am full. I write to the dead. I write out of the body. I write to put food on the table. I write on the other side of procrastination. I write for children we never had. I write for a love of ideas. I write for the surprise of a beautiful sentence. I write with the belief of alchemists. I write knowing I will always fail. I write knowing words will always fall short. I write knowing I can be killed by my own words, stabbed by syntax, crucified by both understanding and misunderstanding. I write out of ignorance. I write by accident. I write past the embarrassment of exposure. I keep writing and suddenly, I am overcome by sheer indulgence, the madness, the meaninglessness, the ridiculousness of this list. I trust nothing, especially myself, and slide headfirst into the familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation and threaten to push the delete button on my way down, or madly erase each line, pick up the paper and rip it to shreds – and then I realize, it doesn’t matter, words are always a gamble, words are splinters of cut glass. I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient we are.

I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.”

– Terry Tempest Williams from “Why I Write”, Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and insights from the teachers of the Associated Writing Programs, edited by Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard (Writer’s Digest Books, 2001)

Read more about Terry Tempest Williams here.

10 responses to “Why I Write ~ Michelle McGrane

  1. Wow. Those are ample reasons to write, and I suspect that most of them are common to many of us, us being people who write for everything that cannot be quantified.

    Thanks M. I dug this.

  2. Would this be a great collaborative poem prompt that stretches around the globe, sent via email? Let’s do it! I’m glad Dustin chose you, and that you chose this piece, which really is a prose poem, isn’t it?

    When we’re done with the poem we can wrap up a building with it, like Christo does.

  3. Christo did some bridges here in Paris. Nice, but industrialised. he wrapped up some islands and they looked nice from the sky.

  4. TTW is the most amazing person. And I am always suspicious of buzz. She came to my class to give a talk. She had never met them before. Instead of immediately talking about herself, she went around the class (40 students) and asked each of them their name and what interested them about life. That’s all she needed to remember each and every student and their interests, constantly tying them in personally to their talk.

    I love her. She is the most generous person.

  5. I love all the comments generated by Michelle’s entry. Yay for Michelle! ! !

    Steve, I love that approach. Last year– actually a year ago next month– I spoke to some students at SCAD. All of the students were talking creative writing as an elective. I tried to find out what they wanted to do, what their interests were, so I could recommends poets/poems. One guy in the workshop writes songs, and I had a villanelle in the packet, so I was able to turn him to villanelles. I thought it would be something he could relate to since most songs have a refrain. He seemed to dig it.

  6. Hi Steve, that makes TTW even more amazing in my eyes.

    Dustin, I think it’s a great approach. I can’t see how you could go wrong with it. (And thank you for having me here.)

  7. Pingback: Vote for ‘09 Faves! « I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin

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