Find Your Why


Recently, I was given advice on pursuing my goals. “Find your why.” Honestly, I didn’t understand that advice at the time it was recited, and a few weeks later, I largely still don’t.

Why write? I could list far more reasons why I shouldn’t.

We didn’t have artists in our family, only dabblers. Crafts were things that were done at a bitch n’ stitch in the church basement, and all of the items were donated in order to raise money. Though it was never phrased this way specifically; the arts were seen as a selfish endeavour. Things I was explicitly told were not encouraging.

  • you’ll be destitute
  • you won’t be able to have a family
  • you’ll always be in debt
  • you’ll never be able to live on your own and be independent
  • fruitless dreams will put you in an early grave
  • it’s a waste of time
  • it’s stupid
  • no one will take you seriously

All of these words were spoken to me by my parents, and by teachers at various stages in my life. The words still hang heavy with me now, decades later. And while I feel the guilt and doubt throbbing deep inside of me like a ceaseless hunger that will never be satiated, I continue to collect and fill notebooks with stories, thoughts, and quotes to inspire me.

Writing was easier when I was in high school. I was in a Writer’s Group, and I started our Film Group. Back then writing wasn’t only my escape, it was my solace, and my connection to those around me. Writing gave me a voice and a community. I had peers eager and willing to devour the words I sprinkled on pages, scenes I set, peril I enacted. They would challenge me, and encourage me in ways I did not receive at home or in class. I miss that terribly.

It’s been twenty years since I was in those two clubs. It’s been about that long since I shared my writing. I still have the pieces that I wrote back then, though I know now that the compositions are not any great work of art, and a few I’ve since edited or re-worked.

Despite the comradery of sharing my writing with friends at that time, it’s not the company that I miss. No, I miss the fervor. The frequency and dedication with which I wrote. The passion. The inclination. The drive. I wrote a script for film group, over 100 pages with dialogue, action directions, settings; in five weeks. We edited it, auditioned it, and gathered film equipment to get it made.

Only to have the school shut us down because the “subject matter was inappropriate for an educational environment.” Film group was disbanded. Writer’s group fell apart a few months later when most of the members graduated and moved on with their lives.

In summer months at home, left to care for younger children for hours on end while my parents would work, drink, or gamble their lives away, it’s difficult to dedicate time to creative pursuits. No matter how high the desire to escape to some otherworld.

In those days if I couldn’t write, I would read. Always series, never standalones. It wasn’t enough simply to dip a toe into another’s shoes. The places I went needed to have substance. Books with multiple parts really helped with that. Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches and Vampire Chronicles were well fleshed out. When a new book was released I reread them all. I reread them so often that the spines of the paperbacks cracked, causing the glue to flake away, and pages to come loose.

I hunted down books by the same author because I liked the way they structured their words. Especially horror writers who could manipulate the common into the mundane, or the murderous. Dean Koontz. Stephen King. Poppy Z. Brite. Years later; Bentley Little. David Wong. Charlaine Harris. J.K. Rowling. J.R.R. Tolkein. Lev Grossman.

There are two authors that I always return to who did not publish series.

Edgar Allan Poe was the first horror author I was introduced to. A classroom reading of A Tell-Tale Heart was like a drug to me. I read everything they had by him in the school library (which wasn’t much for the fifth grade). I didn’t have a complete collection of his stories and poems until I was an adult, and I continue to pull them out regularly and study them. I can’t say that I read them anymore, because it’s never just reading. I go over his work with purpose, with enthusiasm. I want to be him. I want to be that kind of writer. His talents were hugely unappreciated during his life, but he kept pursuing them, and left a lasting legacy.

The second is Susan Kay’s Phantom. I am obsessed with the Phantom of the Opera. I’ve seen all of the movies; good and bad. I went to the musical when it came to the city in 2006 (because I was gifted tickets to attend by a friend and we went together). I’ve read short stories, and fanfiction about the characters set both before and after the Opera House murders. Phantom is a glorious mixture of all of those things. I found a paperback copy of it at a yard sale when I was 17, and I read it until it fell apart, and I’ve never seen a copy anywhere else since. Even though I haven’t read it in over ten years, I can still vividly recall so many of the details. Erik’s childhood, the abuse of the freakshow he spent years in, the detailed descriptions of the inventions he made, settling into the Opera House and becoming obsessed with a young soprano that resembled his mother… That story is a part of me. It brought substance and depth to stage characters. Susan Kay didn’t write anything else after Phantom, and I’ve often wondered why. But on the other hand how much further can you go after that level of perfection? I want to write something to that degree of detail. I know it’s basically fanfiction because it’s based on the Gaston Leroux character, but it is great writing and I will defend it. Come at me.

Find your why.

I love writing. Even if I sit at my desk and force myself to do it until I cry because I feel like I’m pursuing a “selfish”, “fruitless”, “pointless” desire that is simply a “waste of time” I love it. Despite all of the discouraging voices that haunt and compress me until the act of writing is akin to treading water through negativity, I love it. I still love it. Even when I hate myself for doing it, I love it.

For me, writing has never been about getting published, or famous, or recognized. It’s always just been about writing. Filling a notebook and torching it in my firepit holds the same level of appeal as hoarding half-finished stories. If I don’t like what I’ve written I destroy it. If I like something I’ve written, I cherish it. And until recently, since the near two-decades since Film Group, I’ve kept all of this material to myself.

I think I’m ready to start sharing again. I want to. Not to get attention, but to see if it helps. To try and quell the discouragement that engulfs me. The last time I shared my writing I found a community that I didn’t know I needed, and I realize now that that little bit of belief was enough to power my own writing machine.

Writing has always been there for me. Writing will always be there for me. I write when I’m angry, or depressed. I write when I’m numb, or overwhelmed. I do it to sort out my thoughts, and explore the world through someone else’s eyes. Someone braver, brasher, or even someone who is simply kinder and more patient than myself. There is nothing in my life that makes more sense to me than writing, and even with the echoing playback of naysayers repeating their horrendous insight in my mind, nothing brings me more clarity or peace than writing.

I don’t have a why. If I did, I forgot it a long time ago. Writing is a compulsion within me. I can’t get past it. I can’t give it up. And I don’t want to.

In Kindergarten was the first time a story read aloud caused an emotional reaction with me, because the way the story was read was expressive, dynamic and engaging. I knew then that I wanted to be a storyteller, because of how deeply I felt the connection to the story and how it was told. It’s a feeling I’ve rediscovered countless times while reading, and while writing.

I want to write to be connected to this world, and any otherworld I can come up with. Writing makes me feel immortal.

Perhaps if I stick at it, the demoralizing voices will get quieter. Perhaps it’ll get easier.

And maybe then I’ll truly be unstoppable.

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