I’m not crazy; I’m a writer
by Steve Meissner
Well, never mind all that. Now my dream is to be found on my 100th birthday – slumped over my computer – after having just completed the sequel to my Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Yeah, sure. That could happen.
Why do we do it? We write because, well, we really don’t have any choice. We’ve got to do it. It’s not the easiest way to go through life. In today’s world, a two-minute YouTube gets ignored because it’s too long. Jokes lose their pop if they exceed Twitter’s 140-character limit.
Still, we write and hope for discovery. Publishers fall all over themselves to write big advances for a tiny penthouse of established writers – or tell-all celebrities. The rest of us occupy crowded ghettoes where we’re forced to give our work away just to get someone to read it.
So why do we do it? Why do we wake up early and stay up late? Why consume coffee and/or other substances in an effort to stimulate our creative juices? And why do we send off manuscripts, create blogs, and sit for endless forlorn hours at book fairs hoping to get someone to pay attention?
- Because we can.
- Because we have no choice.
Writing is an affliction. Maybe we made a few bucks in our 20s and 30s covering cops, courts, or politics for a local newspaper – back in the days when people still read those things.
Maybe a high school or college teacher told us we had a way with words, and thus we were afflicted by the writing germ.
Or maybe we endure lives of quiet desperation in an office cubicle. Maybe we churn out meaningless reports while daydreaming about spaceships, beautiful lovers, or adventures where we save the world and find true passion.
We write because we have to. We have no choice. And we know that people love a tale that’s told well.
Storytelling is as old as campfires. Perhaps our ancestors earned a hunk of roasted mastodon by concocting stories that kept everyone entertained – and made everyone forget that we were lousy hunter-gatherers.
Or maybe when we were old and toothless, we still got a seat by the cook-fire because we got the kids to sleep by making up tales of friendly dragons, peace-loving lions, or imaginary spirits that keep us safe on a cold and scary night.
The fact is, storytelling is an essential part of human civilization. People want and need legends, fables, and tales of bravery. When we’re facing danger, or when some challenge requires a feat of unsurpassed courage, we are inspired by a tale first heard as we drifted off to dreamland.
And a tale well told is just that. It doesn’t matter if it’s conveyed in a darkened theater, by a glowing glass box in our living room – or through the written word which, after all, was invented just to make sure we could pass on knowledge – as long as it’s a really good story.
I don’t know about you, but if a few days pass without my writing something satisfying, my fingers start to itch. I find myself looking at my computer and remembering the sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a story that feels good.
Behavioral psychologists call it variable reinforcement. Once upon a time we were rewarded for something we put on paper. Now we continue to write because the next thing to emerge from our word process or legal pad might be THE ONE. When it doesn’t earn sufficient praise, we try again – because we hope the next one will be THE ONE.
So, once I can no longer resist the siren’s lure, I screw up my courage and place myself in front of a blank screen. Who knows? The next thing I write might be IT.
I vividly recall the moment of my infection. The day before, I’d written my first article for the college newspaper. As I headed to class, I picked up a copy of NYU’s Washington Square News and saw my story on the front page – right underneath my byline.
I knew immediately what a junkie felt when that needle slid into a vein.
So I write not to achieve fame – though selling a book or two sure would be nice. And I don’t churn out words because someone is willing to write me a check with a long string of zeroes at the end.
I write because I have to. I write because I can. I write on… and on … in hope that the next story will be THE ONE.
For more than three decades, Steve Meissner has watched the Arizona political scene as a journalist, lobbyist, bureaucrat, and even as a legislative staff member. For nearly 20 years he was a reporter, editor and columnist for several publications, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Most of his newspaper career was spent at the Arizona Daily Star, where he was a reporter, editor and columnist, and taught journalism for more than a decade as an adjunct at the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. He is the author of Cactus Caucus, a novel about Arizona’s legislative politics, which is available in Kindle format. He is currently working on a second novel about Arizona politics.