He wanted to know: “How did you become a writer?”
I thought a moment and then explained that there had been a survey on the Dorothy L listserve about why writers write and the general consensus had been: “because we can’t not write.” For me, writing is as much a part of who I am as breathing and brown hair (albeit the hair color might have a tad bit of help).
Maybe it’s destiny or maybe it’s the challenge that intrigues me. George Mallory, the British mountaineer, gave a similar response when asked why he wanted to scale Mt. Everest: “Because it is there.” He couldn’t not try.
On the simplest of levels, we become writers because we have something to say. But why fiction? Jean Kerr, one of my favorite funniest authors, explains in her first book, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, that she decided to become a playwright because as a child, her father, exasperated by her constant chatter, declared “all you’re good for is talk.” Wasn’t that the perfect encouragement, she reasoned, to make a living writing dialogue? She then went on to further explain that she needed to find some career since there didn’t seem to be much income potential in marketing her signature soup—which she had developed by combining two different varieties of Campbell soup.
I re-read several of her essay collections as the Southern half of Evelyn David and I were starting Murder Off the Books. I laughed hysterically (again) and had one of those aha moments. (1) I like to chat so maybe I too could write dialogue, and (2) I don’t think I can make much of a career selling my world-famous matzoh ball soup so I might as well write.
Sometimes writing is exhilarating and sometimes, often, it’s tortuous. There are times when the words seem to flow like water and I’m sitting at my desk reveling at the cadence and precision of the language I’ve created. And then there are the times when I couldn’t compose a shopping list if held at gunpoint.
So why do I write? How’s this? Because for all the disappointment, rejection, poor pay, and frustration, no other job makes me as happy. I write because I love it.