When people ask what I write, I usually tell them about what I’ve published or plan to publish, I never tell them about my four decades of journaling, those thousands of pages I’ve penned. I don’t tell them about the last six years, when I’ve journaled on the computer so my hands can keep better pace with my thoughts. How can I account for writing that will never be published in the form it’s written but which is essential to my life?
This has been true about journaling for so many people. Journal writing has helped many people survive inconceivable horrors. Jaycee Dugard, the 28-year-old woman kidnapped at eleven years old, published her memoir (A Stolen Life). In it are printed several pages from the diary she kept throughout her years of captivity. Her journal was her only friend. Anne Frank’s diary, published after her death as The Diary of A Young Girl, was her only friend when she desperately needed one. Virginia Woolf wrote to herself in longhand in ways she could never write for a waiting literary world, though posthumously, those diaries became as well known as the novels that made her famous. Still, that is not why she wrote.
Author Terry Tempest Williams says she writes “as a witness to what I have seen.” She wrote an inspiring essay, “Why I Write” (in Writing Creative Nonfiction, a collection of narratives on first-person writing edited by Philip Gerard).
I will answer the same question: Why do I write?
I write to say hello to myself when the world is quiet and I can hear.
I write to connect with myself when the world is noisy and I can’t hear.
I write to take photographs.
I write to make peace.
I write to find answers.
I write with the hope of a new view.
I write because it is my first language.
I write to record exchanges that have already vaporized but help me when I remember what was said.
I write to give myself something to hold onto.
I write because just looking and listening isn’t always enough.
I write because of the quail perched on a branch outside my window just a few feet from where I sit.
I write to be a witness to what I have seen.
I write to tell stories that help me understand my life.
I write to give purpose to experiences that seem senseless.
I write because the rain is never just water falling from the sky.
I write because there is no higher moment like when language sends me skybound.
I write because it feels like a warm handshake.
I write because no one is listening and when no one is listening I am free.
I write because it is something I always have and so much is often out of reach.
I write for the scream of it. I write for the whisper of it. I write for the song of it.
I write to tell the story and give it a new ending.
I write to take endings and turn them into beginnings.
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Why do you write? I’d love to hear.