WHY I WRITE

By Michele Weldon

 

I write to pay the mortgage (a bill that includes the property taxes that have increased every year for 22 years even though all I have done to improve my home is vacuum.) I write to pay Verizon, ComEd, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ni-Cor Gas, occasional indulgences at Whole Foods (those olives per pound cost more than salmon) or Ann Taylor Loft on sale. I also wrote to pay college tuition for three sons—all state universities, none of them Illinois.

I also write to save my life.

Writing is my day job, writing is my dream job. I write for money. I write for love. Sometimes the writing I do for monthly paychecks is just typing. I do it fast, dutifully, from my brain, taking in the information, forming it, pressing send. The writing I do in books and essays is from my brain and my heart, my whole self accessed, my past, my present, my future. This is the writing that fuels me, that I hope defines me.

It is these stories I write that matter most– the secrets that I hold inside, the witnessing I cannot bear, the crimes hidden and the torn glimpses of heaven that I struggle and dare to articulate– that drive me, that fill me, that make me feel worthwhile.

The risk to tell the truth and to work to make sure that truth can never be unknown is why I am a writer. Hubris, I know.

But I am not athletic, good at math, astonishingly pretty or adept at managing large groups of people, so my career paths were limited. I chose writer because as a young reader the words on a page could grab me by the throat or stroke my hair until I fell asleep.

I wanted to be someone who could do that. A writer who could be honest about the world and how it affects us, how it shapes us and scars us. And I wanted to do that in a way like no other writer, in a way that made someone sigh, “Yes, that is exactly how it is,” and move on to the next page or the next book.

When I feel the writing is going well—that is that the words match my meaning– it is a sense of joy I get from little else. That writing is a physical act that is emotionally and intellectually rigorous, that requires full attention and full respect.

But my writing also surprises me.

Sometimes I am proud and almost boastful; other times, if I have sideswiped my intention and failed to express what something, someone or some place was like precisely in that moment, I feel shame and disgust at my failure.

So I try again. And write.

In the meantime, I pay my bills.

 

Michele Weldon is author of five nonfiction books, Journalist, Editorial Consultant, Keynote speaker, Senior Leader for The OpEd Project, Editorial Director of Take The Lead, and Emerita Faculty, The Medill School, Northwestern University.