Why I Write
This was the first assignment for the course. It was simple: answer the question, Why I Write, in your own way. What I came up with was a little unusual, but effective. I think it was able to really capture how I feel about writing.
Fish are Friends, Not Food
It’s my second semester of college. I’ve been struggling in school. I have no friends, no real job, I’m away from my family for the first time, and I’m still mourning the recent passing of my grandfather. Luckily, my next class is in my residence hall, so I go downstairs just in time for class, probably wearing whatever I went to bed in the previous night, terribly overweight and with a baseball hat and baggy sweatshirt covering up the fact I hadn’t showered in two days.
It’s an English class, and we get our first assignment. Six pages on a story from our life. Something, ideally, that had a profound impact on who we are. I jot down some notes and after class I head back upstairs. Within a couple hours, I had thirteen pages of solid gold. The experience was unlike any I had ever had before; the words just poured out of me. I wrote two separate narratives juxtaposed against each other like The Godfather: Part II: one about me, and one about my late grandfather. Alternating anecdotes from my childhood and stories my grandfather had told me about his life in Italy created the most beautiful essay about how much he meant to me and the profound impact he had on my life. The final six pages were about the last year of his life, when I lived with him. I wrote of the bond we formed, how I might have saved his life a couple of times, and concluded by saying that he was my idol and that my goal in life was to live a life like his. In the course of revision, only a few lines were altered from that original draft. I got a 96 from my teacher and thought I deserved better.
Now, two years later, I look back and pinpoint the night I wrote that essay as the beginning of a long transitional period in my life. I came to college as a pre-med, but found my calling card when I wrote that essay. I decided to go into film production and use my writing ability to tell stories on the big screen. I also used that essay to apply for an academic minor in writing program that I was accepted into, and it is the basis of what will eventually (mark my words) be the best movie I ever direct.
So, when the essay you’re reading now was due the same week as two other essays and I was directing a play (which I had also written) at the same time, I knew I had nothing to fret about. I was having a conversation about it with my friend, Bethany, who told me that because they were all relatively short, they weren’t “real essays.” I responded, jokingly at first, that “essays are like people, they’re all real in the eyes of God.”
Then: an epiphany.
“Essays are friends, not food.”
Okay, so it doesn’t entirely make sense, seeing as how there’s no food or passive-aggressive sharks involved in my story. And maybe a 21-year-old shouldn’t be quoting Finding Nemo, but hopefully you can see the point I’m trying to make. I treat each and every item I write like a person, because like people, writing has always been there for me. It’s a way I can express what’s on my mind or tell a story in ways that I can’t through oral communication. My thoughts about my grandfather had never fully been realized until that essay. They were pent up inside of me, waiting to escape, which is why I wrote so much, so well, on that first sitting.
And when I had those three essays due concurrently, I gave each of them the tender love and care that they deserve. Like Bruce the Shark, I resisted the urge – as I have so many times before – to do any harm to my friends.
As people, we tend to enjoy doing things we are successful at, and I’ve always been pretty good at writing. I certainly don’t think everything I write is perfect, though; that paper about my grandpa was a diamond in the rough, and even that has seen multiple small revisions over the years as I continue to find ways to improve it. Writing is a process, a method, and is constantly evolving and changing. Writing a paper is typically not a sit-down-and-get-it-done thing, and I love that. It takes hours of planning, drafts, revisions, and more revisions. Like any good relationship, the author-essay relationship requires a lot of give and take. It won’t always be easy, but with time and dedication, the author and essay become one.
Not coincidentally, I’ve found that the writing I have the best relationship with is also the writing that is, in fact, about a relationship. That essay about my grandpa is a prime example. In screenwriting, my teachers preach the “write what you know” mantra. In my experiences, that’s very true; the best writing is the writing that is most personal, and treated most personally.
After all, essays are friends, not food.
I do a lot of different types of writing, and I’ve found that all of them involve a personal aspect. I write for a newspaper; I get paid to turn other people’s stories into my own. I used personal stories and memories of people from my life to write my first feature-length screenplay recently, and already have ideas for ways to convert many more of my experiences into movie scripts. I have plans for a potential novel based on my college years. I have a blog that essentially serves as a journal to keep track of my thoughts. I send emails and letters to my friends and family to remind them how much I love them.
Writing, in the Twitter era (and yes, I tweet), is my most-used form of communication, too. Ideally, I’d be able to talk to everyone I know face to face, but that’s just not practical. Not when you work thirty hours a week on top of taking fourteen credits at the University of Michigan and are attempting to have a social life, too. Text messaging, much to the chagrin of many, is a form of writing. So, too, is Facebook (and you have so many choices: instant messaging, wall posts, comments). I use email to keep in touch with employers and professors. I am constantly writing something to someone to say something at some place and time (try saying that ten times fast).
However, even though face-to-face is preferred, sometimes I need writing to free me of my thoughts. It’s not always easy to say what needs to be said without writing it down.
Recently, I found myself in a sticky situation. My best friend is a week away from leaving to spend the semester studying abroad. Knowing I’ll be gone for the summer, I’m terrified. We won’t see each other for seven months. The problem is that this best friend is a girl, who is dating my roommate, whom I haven’t spoken to in months for various reasons irrelevant to this essay. There was a lot I hadn’t been able to say to her because of the possible consequences of the situation, and now here I am pondering my goodbye.
In a time of confusion and desperate for help, what do I do? I write.
So that’s exactly what I do. I sit down in my favorite chair, plop my enormous laptop on my lap and start writing. Everything pours out of me. I write her an eight-page letter, telling her how sorry I am for what’s gone down between her boyfriend and me, how much I regret not being able to be the type of friend she deserves, how important she has been to my life, and how much I care about her and wish her well with her trip. It was perfect, and a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Once again, things I couldn’t say aloud poured out of me into this letter.
And once again, my old friend Mr. Essay had saved the day.