Why We Write

March 14, 2008

Why We Write – Number 52: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 5:41 pm
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Number 52

Today’s piece is written by Natasha Costa, a reformed reporter.

One of the first clear memories I have is of reading.

When I was about two years old I went through that “why?” phase that so many children have, and my parents always, without fail, pulled out the encyclopedia set they’d spent so much money on and had me sound out what I was asking about.It was all very exciting back then; first came the ABC song and then learning how to string letters together.  I would ask a why and my parents would help me sound out what I was looking for and then sit me in front of that set of encyclopedias and I would pour through them for hours.  I would get distracted; when you start out looking for milk and then see an entry on mammary glands it tends to happen. From there you go to nipples and uterus and sexual reproduction (I knew where babies came from long before my parents ever had The Talk with me. Thank you, encyclopedia set).

It’s a small step to go from reading to writing.  I remember being very young – maybe five or six – and being given a new notebook for school.  Instead of taking it to school like I was supposed to, I filled those pages with painstakingly etched words with my pencil.  They weren’t so much stories back then; more like me stretching my writers wings.  I tested sentences out, and before long I realized I could string together those sentences into one cohesive paragraph. 

I still didn’t make the connection between writing those sentences and paragraphs with story creation.  I was too busy reading books to think of writing my own; I started with the encyclopedias and went on to the very popular Goosbumps books, and from there the Baby Sitter’s Club.  Eventually children’s literature bored me; it was at this point that I began giving my teachers regular heart attacks because I was bringing books to school like Stephen King’s It, and John Grisham’s A Time To Kill.  I was in third grade at this point.  My born-again Christian aunt swore I was the child of the Devil when she caught me with a copy of Carrie.

Fourth grade brought with it promise; I learned double-digit multiplication, and more importantly, I was introduced to the idea of writing stories of my own. 

My fourth grade teacher wanted us to write something.  A short story, she said.  I’d done those assigned essays before, of course, but I had never once thought that actual stories were within my own grasp.  That was something other people did. 

Suddenly a whole huge world was open to me.  When the short story was finished, she said, she would actually get one of the students’ parents to help bind little books together, using art we had actually made for the cover (laminated, on tabloid-sized sheets of paper.  I still have mine, incidentally).  I threw myself to the project with gusto and I unintentionally recreated several scenes from Firestarter, one of the few Stephen King books I had not read at that point.  I severely disturbed my teacher, but I was hooked.  That little machine-sewn set of papers with my words and drawings on it gave me something of a jump-start, and from then on my parents had a hard time getting me to stop writing long enough to do my schoolwork. 

Being ten years old and rather unimaginative, I started writing fanfiction.  I did not know that it was called that back then, of course, but I wrote to fandoms at a frantic pace bordering on obsession – particularly Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series and anything involving Star Trek.  I never told anyone I was writing, and at one point I was so ashamed of the stories that I burned all of my notebooks and buried the ashes in our back yard. 

It wasn’t until I got to high school that I found a friend who also liked to write as much as I did, and we started comparing notes.  He told me I had talent; it was the first words of encouragement I’d ever had in the writing realm, and it was as addictive as heroin.  Not that I believed him, of course!  No, no, good writing, in my mind, was beyond my reach.  The trick was to make whoever was reading your stuff think you were good.  It didn’t occur to me then that that is exactly what the majority of good writers do in real life.

I was still writing fanfiction then.  My friend asked me to read one of his original stories and it was just like I was back in fourth grade all over again – I could write something completely original?  You’ve gotta be shitting me! 

That was nine years ago.  I still write fanfiction, and I still write original fiction, and I still cling to the hope that some day I’ll be able to make a good living at this.  For a while I wrote for a newspaper and it brought a glow to my face – I was living something of a dream, having people read my words and laugh at all the right moments.  Even better that I was getting money for it.  Holy shit – money, just for writing!

But see, now that I’ve had a taste of it, of what it’s like to really do it, I want more.  And so every day, I get on my laptop and I stare at the screen and I write, for as long as I can bear to.  It doesn’t matter what I write – fanfiction, original fiction, poetry, essays, anything, so long as I am producing written work.  And some day, I’ll get back there again. 

So for me, it’s a toss-up.  I write because I love to read my words on paper, just like I love reading others’ words on paper.  I also write because of the hope.  I guess it’s sort of like why rednecks buy lottery tickets, or why people pray – it’s that hope.  The hope that something amazing will happen to you, something life-altering.  Whatever it is, we know that we’ll never be the same after it happens.

Why do I write?  You might as well ask me why do I have hopes, or dreams?  Why do I breathe?  The answer is very clear – I write because I am human.  

 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

March 3, 2008

Why We Write – Number 51: Reader-Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:52 pm
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Number 51

Today’s piece is written by Elaine Figueroa, a college student studying abroad.

 

I’m in Paris right now studying abroad for a French degree I’m not sure I’ll get anymore.  And I blame it all on my love for writing.  In English.

It’s my fault really.  I’ve loved to write since 7th grade when I immortalized one of the best summers I’ve ever had in a journal.  And I’ve written since then in a total of twelve journals, two binders, 4 separate online blogs, and even in my school notebooks amongst math equations and historical dates.  The act of writing stemmed from my love of books and film.  The works of J.D. Salinger, of Buster Keaton, of Flannery O’Connor, and of Stanley Kubrick–they all inspired me to write and to make movies.  I wanted nothing of this world, of this life, than to join the never ending procession of artists that I adored. To be one of them.

Fast forward to my junior year of college double majoring in Cinema (focus on screenwriting) and French at San Francisco State.  I was accepted to study abroad in Paris for an academic year.  If my number one dream was to be an accomplished writer/filmmaker, then my number two was to live in Paris for a year.  The timing was perfect: I was young, my parents were supporting me and very supportive of studying abroad, and I didn’t think I’d get to travel much after college because I planned on moving back home to LA after school.  The plan was to finish my French degree abroad—thus taking a break from cinema—then come back to finish the cinema degree and graduate.  I felt like I could take a break from film and writing and get to focus on French, and I even started to like the idea of this hiatus.

When the time came to gather some recommendations, I went to my screenwriting professor, Joseph McBride (see a nobody film student like me can namedrop too!), who wrote the script for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and published biographies of John Ford and Spielberg to name a few, and he suggested I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for inspiration.  He also gladly accepted to write me a recommendation because he knew what an opportunity like this meant to a student.  That summer before I left for Paris, I returned the favor by writing a letter for his tenure and promotion.

October.  Two months have passed since I settled into Paris.  I was happy, but in a lot of ways, I wasn’t.  I loved this city, the monuments, the art, the fact that Hemingway lived up the street, only ten minutes away.  I was inspired every day, but I was depressed.  And confused. And the only way to deal was to write.  And what better place to write than in my blog that I started specifically for my study abroad year, Paris For A Year (http://parisforayear.blogspot.com/).This was my crisis.  My plan of “taking a break” from film and writing to focus on French wasn’t going over so well.  I was writing in my journal and posting on my blog every day.  All in English, my langue maternelle, the only language I’m truly comfortable with.  I was thinking of new film ideas during French class, my notes cluttered with shot descriptions and dialogue.  I was going to the cinema down my street seeing films that I have never had the chance to see projected (Pulp Fiction, The Cameraman).  After all this, it was slowly becoming clear: I no longer wanted to learn French.  At least, I didn’t want to major in it anymore.  Coming to Paris was never about the French major.  It was about cinema.  And writing.  It was always about cinema and writing, the two go together like crêpes and nutella.  The dream was to write and live in Paris the way my neighbor Hemingway did.  Not to conjugate verbs or translate texts.  That was all just an excuse to come here.It took me two months in a foreign country to realize that I couldn’t take a hiatus from what I love.

I wrote about my whole epiphany in my blog.  I wanted people to know why I was acting the way I was, and I wanted my Mom to read it because that was better than me telling her over the phone.  This is why I write.  I write because I don’t know how else to express myself.

I write because I see these images in my head that I don’t want to forget, because I hear words that need to be in ink.  I have to get these things down because it’s torture if I don’t, and lost to oblivion if I’m unlucky and without a pen.  I write because nothing satisfies me most than turning my words into images on film with the help of my film friends, and then showing my complete work to my peers for their enjoyment and criticism.  I write because I’m not very good at speaking.

I write because it gets me to avoid things I loathe like vacuuming or even a French paper on Gustave Courbet that’s due next week.  I do it because after a page or two of writing my heart out, I feel like I’ve lost pounds.  I write because I know this is the best gift I have to give and that someday, maybe, I can use this gift to pay my parents back for financing my year of writing abroad.

Thank you for reading this and for giving me a reason to write why I write.

(NOTE: After much deliberation, turns out I will be getting my French degree after all.)

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

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