I recently had a friend that gave me a writing assignment (yes, I have those types of friends). She wanted me to explain why I write. Of course a writer writing about their writing tends to lead to pretentious comments such as, “I write because I feel greatness on my fingertips,” or “I write because my fans need me to.” My personal favorite response is, “Writing reminds me of how superior I am to other people.” Give me a break.
Since I am venturing into the world of self-publishing, now will be a good time to give a voice to that which is often voiceless. In this moment I want to take something that routinely remains abstract and turn it into something concrete: the reasons for why I write. I write because it is a family business. During the summers of my youth, my grandmother had a routine. When the Tennessee thunderstorms rolled in, my grandmother would direct my brother and me outside. The three of us sat on our front porch and listened as she told us stories. I had heard the stories so many times that I could tell them myself, but I could never recite the tales like she did. Years later, after her death, I found journals where she wrote her most inner thoughts: prayers to Jesus Christ, how she missed her mother, and the regrets she had raising her grandchildren.
My mother wrote a lot when she was alive. When I was nine or ten, I found a journal she had written in after she walked out on me. The content of her writings would have been disturbing for many sons—the articulation of womanhood—but my mother had such a command for language, she wrote with such clarity and honesty, that while I read her entries it felt like I was reading stories. When my grandmother took my mother’s journal away from me, it felt like she left me again.
I write because I have this need to respond to events I have experienced: the birth of a child, the end of a marriage, the car wreck that took place on Christmas night, the woman that sits in the cafe and reads The New York Times. Inspiration is a peculiar transaction; a rush of creative energy given from the world unseen to an artist. I write because I have questions I need answered. Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What should I do with my life? Whenever I sit before my Smith Corona, I insert a blank sheet of paper, and I type. Of course the answers to these questions will not come all at once, but with every line that I write and every faint ding of the typewriter’s bell I know I am advancing closer to the revelation that I need.
While working on my chapbook of poetry, I am also working on two manuscripts I hope to turn into novels someday. Some days I write a lot and some days I do well just to ink out two hundred and fifty words, but I write. The work of writing is never simple. Even writers who have written for years still struggle with the craft. “If writing is so tough then why keep doing it?” When I have a good answer for that question I will write about it.
Devan Burton’s chapbook In Quiet Hours will be available in December on Amazon.