This blog was featured on 04/19/2018
Listen Engage Absorb
Written by
She Writes
April 2018
Written by
She Writes
April 2018

This "Why I Write" guest post was provided by Deborah Batterman. Her novel Just Like February is available now. 

I grew up in a small Brooklyn apartment, two bedrooms, one bathroom to accommodate my mother, father, brother, grandmother, and me. On any given night of the week, aunts, uncles, cousins would pop in, sit around the dinette table. Schmooze. Argue. Fortify themselves with whiskey and cigarettes.  I’d say my hellos, scuttle off to my bedroom where I could read, write, listen to music in peace. But the same noise that had me hankering for that thing we call personal space  inevitably lured me back. Even at their most banal and boring, stories are what we live by. I hungered to hear them. The daily dramas at the heart of it all—love gone bad, money never enough, the heartless aunt who walked out on her three kids and the one with a heart of gold who lost a son to drugs—could, as the saying goes, fill a book. 

And even if I didn’t yet know I might one day be a writer, wasn’t I doing what writers do? Listen/engage/absorb.  Retreat. Let it churn. Seeds were being planted. Years of churning would turn the seeds into fiction and essays.

Some say it takes courage to write.  For me it’s more surrender, not so much sweet as the kind that comes from all that quiet time spent wrestling with words/thoughts/worlds, shaping it all into stories that, hopefully, have resonance. On a good day a character in a piece of fiction I’m working on tells me she’s always been a little in love with Bob Seger and my only question is, how did I not know this before? That section I was grappling with finds its tone, its missing sentences and I’m on fire. On a bad day, all it takes is one new rejection to make me question who would care if I never wrote another word.

I let out a sigh, words roll out, some hesitancy in them: I would.  I can pull my hair out one strand at a time in frustration, take needed breaks, but in a word (or two or three), I cannot not write. It’s the double negative that’s so affirmative. Even through the doubt and despair, what keeps me writing is the puzzle of it all, teasing images into words, words into sentences/paragraphs/stories.

I write to make sense of the world.

I write to puzzle out the inner workings of people’s minds.

Writing fiction is an outgrowth of reading fiction, tapping into its rhythms, getting lost in worlds other than my own.

Writing essays gives more straightforward expression to thoughts, feelings, observations, and making the kinds of connections that come with deep reflection.

We are nothing if not a storytelling species, which means we all have stories to tell. Some are transcendent, others banal. Some are driven by the artful play of words, others by the raw power of the story. Look anywhere, listen—really listen—to what people say, and a story idea is bound to take shape. The other side of that equation is the story that finds the writer, the one she is simply meant to tell. 

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