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What makes us write and what makes us writers. The following conversation was held in a Soul Food Forum moderated by Heather Blakey also known as E. late February to March 2009.
The group felt that it would be a great idea to share their conversation as it was passionate and invigorating in its exploration of the many purposes that writing can serve in daily life. Soul Fooders are- artists, writers, multiart forms practitioners, who create in a variety of genres. They all have blogs. They hail from Ireland, the United States, Australia, Canada. From time to time E invites them to participate in projects, and there are always chocolates and other gifts of creativity along the way. They have all entered into the magic of the Lemurian world created by E. The following has been compiled by June/Pearlz.
This particular conversation includes, Gail, Vi, Jill, Pearlz (June), Colleen, Fran, Sally, Alexis, Steph, Kerry and Barbara.
GAIL: Some people, of course, can meld work and creativity with consummate skill, but in my experience, I found that working as a writer robs me of some of that simple childlike pleasure.
Having to think of deadlines, having to trim my prose to suit editorial requirements, having to worry about writing enough and well enough to pay the bills – it’s a business, and even in times not as economically stressed as this, it makes creative joy a low priority.
VI: I’m working on number four in a series of books my contract calls for and I am feeling all of the things you describe. Writing for publication does, I truly believe, stifle the creativity. I can’t wait to get all five behind me. And while it has in some ways been a good experience, it would have been better if it had been for just one book. I have other creative paths I want to follow and fulfilling this contract is taking up way too much of my time. But, a contract is a contract so I bite the bullet so-to-speak and do the best I can despite my heart not being in it.
If, on the other hand, the writer is driven to publish, then by all means go for it. It all depends on what seasons your soup.
COLLEEN: Hi Vi, It’s interesting because all my life – at least as long as I could formulate a plan – I’ve said I wanted to write AND publish. Maybe I’m not missing much by not accomplishing my goal?
KERRY: Write because you love words, not to get published!!!!
Write because you have something to say, not to get paid!!!
Write because the words need to be released, to make the world a better place, but not to be famous, get recognition…
I spent 20 years as a free lance writer – trying to get published – in little literary magazines – and while it’s a nice ego boost, it took some of the joy out of writing – and forget being paid, volunteer little mags can barely pay for paper & ink, much less staff, or authors… even my forays into special interest magazines – you don’t make that much – I had $700 to show for 20 years’ work – and this was before the Internet, so all the postage & paper was at MY cost. It took me a couple years to find an agent – hard to find one, the good ones were too busy & the others just wanted reader’s fees….
I write as my day job now – and sometimes it uses all my creative juices up – I get paid, but don’t write about things that interest me – and don’t have much brain power left over in the evening to write much, except a few blips on my blogs – if them… I think that’s why I’m doing glass in my free time – a change from all those pages…and I am not even someone who hates rewriting…
Think of all the hours that go into a book – that’s put on the discount remainder table at a store – it’s just so sad, to me, anyway. You can do if you like, but for me, it was sucking the joy out of creation…all those rejection slips – or, we liked your work, but we have no room for it, or it doesn’t fit our format…
I don’t go so far as to say don’t go for publication/payment – but if you choose not to follow that path, that’s OK, too, “I give you permission” to play with words, they are your little inky friends, and if the only please who read your labors are those of us at Soul Food & a few other blogs, well, thank you for sharing part of yourself with other people who love this creative life, the via creativa (The Creative Way)….we can’t make you rich or famous, but we’ll be there for you if ever you need someone to listen or read or share the thrill of finishing a big chapter or other milestone…we’re not only a “support group” – we are a supportive group –
FRAN: How true this is. And also I find it necessary, even in very old age to have something about which to feel guilty—a teaching habit, for in teaching one never quite gets as far as one would wish and in writing one must always write or be burdened with the load of the undone weighing one’s back.
COLLEEN: I can definitely see your point, and this may be the extent of my publishing – and I am grateful for this audience, but if I ever write anything amazing, exceptionally humorous, or profound, then I would like to widen my audience. I guess I wouldn’t need to be paid, as long as I received credit for the work.
KERRY: …and with the wonderful support you’ll get from the Soul Food Community , there’s no doubt you WILL write amazing, warm, wonderful, funny things, that a bigger audience would enjoy – but your deepest joy will still be in creating, I will guess, no matter what happens to our “creative children” after we “fling them to the public”* and they take on new lives of their own…
Winston Churchill on writing:
Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.
COLLEEN: I definitely see your point. As I posted the other day I thought to myself, I so am not following my only advice from when I was an English teacher – I just post my first draft and then move on to the next project.
And then once you are published your drive gets a flat??? But then again, what would you do for income if you weren’t writing? I can relate to your need to prove yourself. Then the question becomes, do I have to be published to prove that I am a writer?
Perhaps in your retirement you can pursue the non-writing artist in
you, have the freedom explore and reconnect with your dreams.
GAIL: Anyway, Colleen, ambition to get published gives your writing drive
and fire – I am not saying that anyone should not write for publication or money (as Dr Johnson said, no one but a blockhead never wrote for money – I think that’s how it goes :-D) but what has been pressing down on me is that it become the Be All and End All, and that puts out the creative fire.
I just write on auto pilot what I know will be profitable, and while I enjoy sharing information, it’s just a recitation of facts really, written to a formula. I have been
writing for H………. a lot lately and I have gotten caught up in their ridiculous stars and points system so much that it bordered on obsession – it was time to stand back and ask myself why I really am a writer. I would be one even if there was no money or possibility of publication, and that was my answer – to take my crisis of creativity to the Abbey and try germinating some of those seeds I have let lie fallow because they were not profitable. I need to think this over – on top of that, so much has happened lately on a personal level and to my friends that it puts my drive to succeed into perspective. Succeed at what? And I realise the only thing I want to succeed at is being a human being.
I think the problem with me is that I have always been driven by the need to prove that writing is more than “Gail’s little hobby” or “Mum’s little sideline”. I can’t complain, writing has always been good to me, and I have always managed to make a living at it somehow. But my original dream was to be an artist – I just wasn’t good enough.
Writing showed profitability and that was my – and everyone else’s – measure of success. But I’m heading for retirement now and that won’t be an issue. Maybe I can recapture the special feeling that writing used to give me – that I could find the artist in myself and paint with words. My thoughts are still pretty muddled, as you can see, but what I am saying for myself is that it is time to let go of that feeling of needing to prove myself, and be s competitive that it blocks everything else out.
You see, this is what Soul Food does for you (rolls her eyes at that enchantress Heather) – it awakens you to the yearnings and unfulfilled hopes within and bothers you until you see something very clearly and have to do something about it.
Colleen, I always said there is no such thing as writer’s block when there are bills to be paid 🙂 But no, I don’t believe publication proves you are a writer, it proves you are published. Kind of like the exception to the rule proves there are exceptions, not the rule.
Yes, I am hoping that – I had dreams before writing became a business. Art is important because it makes us all part of the creative process of life. But making a living is important too – there has to be a balance somewhere.
STEPH: Gail, I am the same with my visual art as you are with your writing.
I am not precious about my work and that is why I can do it.
I am precious about writing, and that is why I have all kinds of rules and reservations about it, down times where there are no words willing to go from head to page…just a mess of some sort of stage fright. Afraid I’ll lose the preciousness of the idea, maybe.
Whereas in art I know damn well that whatever I start out to create will NEVER see the light of day because it just never ever is what I intend. It is often better than I thought I could do. Visual art is a process and I love the process, and the
process is one of wonder. It is not a science. I go with the flow.
I do not pick a beginning, middle, and end and make it all fit. That
would be no fun!
My attitude about art marked me as a professional among the gallery owners from the time I entered their scene. When a new show is on the horizon that may suit my art I get calls because I’m an easy-going artist and promoters love that. They don’t want to have to coax artists to reveal their latest work and assure and reassure them that they’ll be loved. If my latest work isn’t a hit it just isn’t. It will be forgotten. Memories are short.
I would write an awful lot more if I had the same fearlessness with words. Alas, I have ‘issues’. LOL I see the words as something inside of me, something still attached, lying defenceless in the open. The art is different; it has been birthed and can stand on its own from creation. Fearless. Complete.
KERRY: Now Gail, did you know that David Bowie always wanted to be an artist, but had to settle for being a world-reknown legendary rock & roll musician & actor, because He wasn’t good enough as an artist?
And not only does Soul Food give us a chance to talk about this stuff (some of us have friends & spouses that roll their eyes when we want to get “artsy-fartsy”) – but then we find other dreams we had buried, and they were still there, waiting for a chance to shine – I got some encouragement on layout & design on my ATC card attempts – and the comments on my jewelry from everyone – by golly, maybe I do have a bit of my family’s artistic blood in me, it was just waiting to emerge…this group is the jar that germinates us to sprout!
STEPH: Merely the process of editing and polishing and submitting manuscripts took all the joy out of writing for me. I spent about a year dealing with editors and such getting published in small magazines and journals, hoping for the big book deal!…and losing interest in my writing dream day by day before I met Heather. I studied the publishing world in order to know how best to approach it and what that did was largely destroy what joy I took from other people’s literature.
When I go to a bookstore now, I know, that most of the self-help books on the shelf are there because the writer had either a contract or bills to pay or both. I lost a lot of faith in books when I looked at the whole business too closely. I can easily tell now when I writer’s heart isn’t in the writing if it’s a big name writer who would surely be on contract to write a certain number of books within a period of time. Writing books is a job like any other.
I have become the pickiest of picky writers who will write only when she is truly moved to do so, and am the pickiest of picky readers who is not easy to please, but falls wholly in love with a book she finds readable. For me, there is nothing in between the unbearable and the wonderful.
I still have a dream of writing for publishing, but the dream now of course includes self-publishing. I have no money for such a venture, but it would be the only way to possibly continue nurturing a level of creative joy in the writing. Hey…we all need dreams to entertain ourselves when we first lie down at night and pull the soft and warm covers up to our chinny chins.
JUNE: I was reading all you wrote about writing and this is what I thought
To write is to breathe in the air of imagination
To write is to heal anything that builds up in our heads and remove it to a blank piece of paper or a computer screen
To write is to not always hit send when we have written, we can even hit delete and watch it all disappear like a meditative mandala
To write is to amuse ourselves
To write is to amuse others
To write is to make links and metaphors that make us see the world anew
To write is to look for our holy grails
To write is to breathe dreams into paper so that dragons and unicorns come to call
To write is to say thankyou
To write is to give the power of words lasting time, herstory, history, yourstory
To write is to remember and interpet
To write is to say this is what I know
To write is to say this is what I don’t know
To write is to breathe..
SALLY: To read your magnificent words is to do all of those things, June!
Such beauty defies description.
KERRY: That is IT – to write is to breathe, to connect, to be – beautifully expressed and lived, June! Amen.
VI: For a true writer, writing is not merely a desire, it is an absolute necessity.
JILL: Oh June, how beautifully you have expressed this – I feel the same way about visual art – I am trying to feel the same with words. . .
JUNE: Jill, you have such beautiful visual art and I hope one day I can feel the same about visual arts too, and yes Vi and Kerry writing I can’t imagine a day without it.
KERRY: I think June is right – for me, writing/art IS the holy grail! BTW, Colleen, remember Ray Bradbury’s wisdom on writing – and read his book Zen & the art of writing if you haven’t already: “He who has fun – creates!” RB
COLLEEN: Thanks for the advice. I’ll look for the book!
STEPH: I write for two reasons: to share my experiences and to deny the opinion that I do not matter. We are never completely healed until we are dead, I think, but the main part of the healing for me of particular events is done by the time those experiences find their way to words before an audience.
When I was a child I wrote to heal. As an adult I write because I have a story to tell that I have not yet read elsewhere and so there is probably a good chance it needs telling. I have been writing for many years now and have read enough self-help books to choke a horse. I can’t imagine there’s one left I need to read in order to write the way I already know how. Willingness and energy are my only deficits now.
The pain and despair, the hesitancy to ‘talk’ lest I be misunderstood or my story found too unattractive/unpopular to be included, is what you read in my words because I called it up and hinted at it in the writing to give credibility to what I was writing about. I don’t ‘live’ in those feelings today. They’re necessary to the subject matter in order for the audience member with similar experiences to believe that I really “get it”. It is part of the skill of writing such a story. Perhaps it came across as merely pain because it was a small excerpt instead of a whole section of writing wherein I could draw the audience in and out of the dark with anecdotes about then and now.
KERRY: Why didn’t I ever see it before? Writing is all about connections – with myself, with others, with past, present, & future – connections with characters, how they interact, connections with plots, how events impact other events, how situations affect us, how we respond emotionally…
I write to speak to scream to whisper to shout to teach to learn to tell to show to try to give to share to parade to deepen to unfurl to open up to look within and see what is, is.
I connect with the verbs & parts of speech with what I know, what I’ve learned what I still want to learn – And where would writing be without readers? That’s a connection too – writers write for readers and readers encourage the writers to keep going….
I write because I can
I write because I have to get it out
Or I want to show you something
I write to create order of chaos
I write to explode safely on paper
I write to practice my talent my gift my duty my journey
I write because oh why the hell not?
I write because teachers encouraged me
I write to make people laugh or smile or forget their troubles for awhile
I write to get closer to God
I write because I wish I lived by the sea and I don’t so I just imagine the beach so I can smell the sea again and almost feel the warm sun on my shoulders and see the glint of silica in the sand
I write because I can’t experience things I want to – not enough time or money or opportunities –
I write because I can’t help writing
I write because I love the process
I love creating it keeps the blues away
or better yet it lets me face my blues and tell them which way to go –
I write because it heals
I write because it empowers me
I write to transform my pain
I write to keep from going crazy
I write to save myself from boredom
I write to please teachers and readers and myself
I write to play with words, my little friends
I write because stories help me make sense of the world
I write because what I produce often surprises me
I write to answer questions I didn’t know I was asking
I write and I keep writing whether anyone else ever reads my work
Because when I quit writing once before
It felt like my soul had been raped,
Profoundly robbed of something so very precious.
GAIL: To be a writer to begin a journey of romance, adventure, incredible highs and earth shattering lows. It is all there at your fingertips – the power to move, to inspire, or to bore . .. To be a writer is to fall in love with words – and to grow sick of them, utterly hating the blank page that refuses to reveal them. It is to burn manuscripts in a passion of thwarted creativity, and to bitterly regret their loss later on – but mostly, it is to write and write, until your eyes are burning, your throat is dry, your fingers numb.
It’s easy to be a writer, sportswriter Red Smith said, “All you have to do is sit at the typewriter and open a vein.” That’s if you want to be a great writer, the kind of writer that people clutch to their hearts, repeating quotes as if they were the mantra of life.
Then there’s the rest of us. We catch fire on occasion, get decent gigs because we have worked hard and paid our dues, now and then someone says, “I wish I had written that,” and we glow with pride. Greatness may be beyond us, but we all have a story to tell, and a unique way of telling it and that is also what it means to be a writer.
BARBARA:I doubt I’ll ever see publication of my completed manuscript or of the two “books” I have in process. In a way, that’s a pity, because I’m convinced they’re good, but I’m a writer, not a saleswoman, self-promoter, or typist. I’m also not young and certainly not able to attend signing parties or go on tour. I used to be concerned that I lacked motivation and that writing was simply a frivolous waste of time.
I finally relaxed about not seeking publication after viewing a program on TV about what made Nicholas Sparks an instant phenomena with The Notebook and such a huge success with his following books. Yes, he wrote good stories, but he was also a good looking young man who went directly to a publisher or agent, plopped his manuscript down on the desk and, said with a grin, “I’m a salesman and I can sell anything.” Bingo. Listening to several of our group’s admissions that going professional pretty much took the joy out of writing, just confirms what I thought all along: I wouldn’t give up what I experience when writing for either fame or fortune.
Since I no longer care about publishing, why do I write?
• I write to follow my thoughts and see where they lead.
• To find the wisdom inside me.
• To continue a thread begun by someone wiser.
• To seek the truth.
• To empty my brain of drivel.
• To encourage.
• To give praise and show appreciation.
• To indulge in flights of fancy.
• To prove I’m more than I believe I am.
• To recover from sadness and expel anger and frustration.
• To live what can’t be lived in one short life.
• To become someone new whenever I choose.
• To join, to connect, to open heart and mind to the universe.
• To catch one rainbow drop in the torrent of words spilling over the falls before it disappears into the river of time.
• To find the nugget of gold buried in the dust and grime of “ordinary”.
• To give credit.
• To separate the gem stone from the glitz.
• To gain strength, spout off, give credit, play, clarify, purge, perfect.
• To remember.
• To not forget.
• To find God.
• To uncover my soul.
JILL: I am still learning to love and feel at ease with words and the writing of
them the way I love and feel at home with my visual art , but always, always
humour has been the staff along with speaking out – breaking silence in whatever way – which is not necessarily speaking of our pasts in a literal way or indeed our presents, but being seen, being heard is so very important for all those who feel they/we never had a voice.
For me it is where the internet has really come into its own – it has enabled me, instead of pouring my heart out to just me and a few others, anyone can see/read if they so choose – what a fabulous gift that is.
I have found a balance that was missing before – I can have different blogs for different “voices” – different aspects of me that want expressing, or I can load onto different pages within the same blog – and it is endless. I have received so much support from so many who don’t even know that that is what they are giving . I hesitated for a long time to put one page on my mixed-media blog because it is about the past and it is not pretty, but I did it and felt so much better for it. That wasn’t about being seen particularly, I have been on marches shouting my head off with the best of them – breaking the silence truly ! – but it did release something for me. I must admit I didn’t put up a warning either, but then once you see it it is pretty clear and there it is, one page amongst many – some of them very, very personal in all sorts of ways – others are pretty things I have liked to make along the way – all parts of me and all can be expressed thanks to this wonderful vehicle.
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to say what I did not even know I was
SALLY: In that childhood where I was so alone so long ago with no one to talk to about my feelings that were seemingly of no interest to anyone, I wrote. I wrote to answer the unasked questions from my divorced parents. I wrote deep conversations I didn’t have with my sister who was trying to mother me when my mother was going to school, working, trying to raise three children on her own. I wrote to my father who joined the merchant marines as he couldn’t stand the pain of no longer being with us every day so he traveled the seas around the world. I wrote to express the love I thought I had for boys I was too shy to talk to, the girls who hurt me with their gossip. I wrote words that grown ups would write about life and the games that must be be played. I wrote about love and the price that must be paid. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. The words saved me from a childhood too soon lost and feelings of being un-loveable. I created a different world for myself and saved me…with the words I wrote.
ALEXIS: I write because I love the feel of words and the process of watching them sneak out from that room that is my head and out into the world.
And I love writing because it gives me the chance to share my inner world with others, populated as it is with crazy stories and equally deranged characters. I think everything I’ve ever seen, heard or read all these years have been percolating around inside my head for so long that they’ve all merged and mutated into my own distinct versions of the questions and ideas they pose to the world.
COLLEEN: I write because I can. I write because I must.
Thanks to Heather, at Soul Food for the forum she provides for us to have these discussions and so skillfully moderates. Thanks also to all those included in this article for their comments on drafts. The dialogue can continue in comments under this. I will gradually add a reference list of interesting articles about Why Write that are available on line. You can of course always google the topic!
© all those who commented, not to be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the authors.
© For this compilation of the comments and all the images in it to June Perkins.
Other articles on Writing By Soul Fooders (under construction)
For more about Soul Fooders and their activities go to
What a good job you have done in bringing so much together. Thank you, for I shall keep this. Fran
I have tried to post a long comment, but it did not seem to register.-Ron
There must be a maximum number of words for any one comment. Mine went over the maximum. I shall return when time permits.-Ron
Ron best to post a link to your comments (: and start it and then put continued at…
This is excellent, June. Very well done.
thanks for your contribution and for providing your links…
Thank you, June, for putting this all together. It’s an insight to the many of us who are driven to write for whatever reason.
Good job, June! You gleaned through many words and gads of emails to get to the essence of the true meanings. Thank you so much! It’s a go from me!
Thank you, June for sorting through all the comments and producing such a cohesive article. It was one of the best discussions we’ve ever had and will be a really worthwhile read for anyone interested in writing.
I thank you all so much for your comments on the article and am glad that it reads cohesively. It was quite an interesting exercise. Kerry if you are following this thread can you please send me the link for your writing manifesto and I will add it (:
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this has really pulled together the conversation and created a wonderful USEFUL discussion on why we write.
Brava, brava! Excellent job of quilting together our random thoughts on writing – I know we didn’t make it easy! The whole is truly more than the sum of its parts – your pulling all these thoughts together is a beautiful tapestry, worthy of the Muses!
This is such a wonderful post June. We must make sure that all the Soul Food Community read this. I will make sure to feature this article on the front page of Soul Food so that we drive more traffic in. One tiny correction. It is Blakey not Blakely 🙂
Okay if you notice typographicals please tell me, I am still editing this (: they should be gone in the next few days… this was intended as a spot for those so published to correct the draft (: it will also be posted elsewhere when these corrections are all done…
sorry, was out of town for the week end and just saw this now. 🙂 this looks great. 🙂
thanks so much for minor typographical corrections and feedback, the corrections are nearly all there, just a couple more days – got a busy morning tomorrow. (:
so will get to it after that’s all dealt with.
all the best to you all. thanks for allowing me to share your words here!
This is brilliant June – what a wonderful job you have done, thank you so much.
This is excellent-I love what everyone had to say and the way it was all written up here…kudos to all represented here… kudos kudos…
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