I just finished the first draft of The Sommières Sun. It now goes on to editing and it is still on track for a spring release. I thought I’d take a short break from the book to blog about why I write.
I write to entertain, educate and inspire. I also write to provoke thought. I find many of us lead lives, myself included, that don’t often offer time to think. I mean time for us to reflect on what we actually think about something. Far too often we “outsource” our thinking to others, political commentators, journalists, celebrities, pastors or, even worse, propagandists.
In the past, many of our jobs featured time to be alone and offered moments of reflection. What else could you do walking behind a mule or sitting on a tractor or the like? I know my grandparents, who were farmers in Deep East Texas, had much time to think. Many of their daily tasks were performed alone without any distraction other than the task before them, often a task that didn’t require a great deal of attention. They had no internet or radio to “keep them company” as they went about their tasks out on the farm. They had a newspaper and some fuzzy television of three channels if the weather was right.
I loved talking to my grandparents because their ways of thinking didn’t fit into any box. They didn’t let anyone do their thinking for them. They certainly didn’t organize their world view around what a political party told them to think. I didn’t always agree with them and frankly a few of their views were farfetched, but the beauty of it was that they were were “their” views. Nowadays, tell me what networks or media outlets you follow and I can probably accurately guess your views on things ninety percent of the time or more.
Okay, so what’s this got to do with writing? I like to entertain and inspire people, but I also like to provoke the reader to think about things from a different perspective. In both A Moveable Marfa and The Sommières Sun, I use people from other cultures to provoke Steve, my protagonist, to think about things from other perspectives.
Travelling and truly listening to people from other cultures is another way to help people to develop “their” views. Often times, the “pre-packaged” views we embrace don’t in reality square well with the complexity of the real world. So, I have sought to journal or somehow record the moments where my worldview was challenged.
I have also attempted to record or at least remember things that have happened to me that I found interesting, challenging or surprising. Hemingway offered–
“Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is; so that when he makes something up it is as it would truly be.”
I strive to keep my writing “true” by writing from my “knowledge of life.” I work to avoid writing pure fiction. I weave my knowledge of life and enough informed fiction to make a story flow and enhance the reader’s experience. I really feel like a fraud when I write about something of which I have no personal experience. It makes my writing feel less “true.” Probably most writers share this feeling.
Whether it is the taste of an incredible steak-frites meal I had in a Paris steak house, the emotions I felt during a hurricane, the curiosity that filled me when I experienced a good Tiki bar or my reaction to a beautiful West Texas sunset, I try connect the reader to the beauty of these experiences for the reader’s enjoyment or inspiration. However, as appropriate, I also use experiences to provoke thought on the part of the reader by sharing different ways of thinking about things. Of course, readers have the sovereignty of their own thoughts and feelings.
That, in a nutshell, is why I write.
2 thoughts on “Why I write”
Great post, Chuck. I sum it up in one word: empathy. I think the best writing transports the reader to another time and place. The characters we introduce may feel familiar, or may be totally outside the reader’s experience. Either way, we hope to provoke a reaction. Otherwise, it’s just self-indulgent words on a page. Congrats on finishing your draft–I’ll look forward to the next installment.
Thanks Elisa! You certainly accomplished that in “The Italian Prisoner!” Really have enjoyed reading it.