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Why I Write - With A Free Essay Review
One of many common fantasies includes an unexpected interruption that propels lives towards exciting directions. Such reveries are often grandiose: striking a jackpot, finding true love at first sight, surfacing a latent talent—like picking up a violin, for the first time, and effortlessly executing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Susceptible to this fantasy I once wrote a short story, “The Womph.” I can’t recall where I contrived the word, and though I have some suspicions—my the womph, as I recall, bears a salient resemblance to George Lucas’ the force—I’m not entirely sure what the story was about. It certainly wasn’t realism, which is my primary interest. Heavily invested in my work, I sat behind my mother’s electric typewriter, incessantly churning out page after page of drivel—wholly convinced I had the next Star Wars. I don’t know the precise age I began writing the womph, albeit I was old enough to succumb to self-consciousness, yet young enough to adore Saturday morning cartoons. One could imagine my dismay when, on a typical Saturday morning, tuning into one of my favorite animated series, I witnessed a grade school student use the word whomp. Even as a child, I understood that the likeness of the words would render my story unmarketable. I don’t know whether I felt attached to the name or simply evaded the idea of changing it but that morning I gave up. Additionally, through obsessive comparison, I’d realize my story, like Star Wars, was unnecessarily convoluted. The most striking aspect of the term whomp was its simplicity. To the vexation of elementary school faculty, a shrewd student created the word in lieu of profanity. That morning, I retired the typewriter, shredded the story, and dedicated myself to a life of considerable media consumption.
I began to devote my free time—children have a lot of free time—to television and movies. Though I experienced sporadic bouts of reading, there were many moments in which clocks became superfluous because simply by turning on the television I became aware of the time; this often worked if I flipped to a station I did not normally watch. Consequently, I was invariably up to speed on all of the latest advertisements: fairly familiar with all of the latest toys, as well as considering the best options for car dealerships and which grocery store carried the cheapest produce. This abundance of inconsequential knowledge carried on throughout my adulthood.
After more than a decade hiatus, in my undergraduate film studies, I encountered the opportunity to revisit creative writing. I wrote five pages of the most execrable prose I’d ever read and slept soundly, like the night following a ten mile hike. The next morning, words pleasantly bubbling about my mind like a stimulating conversation, I crawled out of bed, without touching the floor, to my desk and began revising my story about a single-night interaction between the owner of a small-town diner and an affectedly wealthy, egotistic teenaged girl. The sensation of writing, starkly superior to a runner’s high, led me to believe that I wanted to write for the rest of my life. The sudden transition from zero life goals to aspiring writer jarred me, left me skeptical. Don’t be too interested. I thought. It’s simply another fleeting interest. Think of your guitar, cold despite its heavy coat of dust and the collection of sports balls you’ve tossed, kicked, and batted—long abandoned. However, I couldn’t overlook the fact that adapting At All Hours into a ten-page screenplay resulted—for the first time—in sustained pride in my work.
I’ve since regularly composed essays, each time finding myself closer to exhibiting unadulterated honesty which, as a writer, is too easy to stray from. While I have enjoyed creating fiction—which is so often inspired by reality—I can scarcely find anything more simultaneously fulfilling and more petrifying than writing my truth. A striking feature of essayists is their honest reflection on particular, real life, issues: James Baldwin poignantly observed race in America and Pico Iyer vividly recounted his travels. Thus I gather the ability to write well, requires one to have at least two passions. While writers must have a passion for writing, they greatly benefit from focusing on a particular topic to passionately write about. (Some writers, Francine Prose, composed essays about writing.)
A word about individuals and their chosen professions, they are often, in a sense, nerds—those intently fixated on a particular subject. Until lately, I have never considered myself a nerd, though I’ve had my obsessions—video games, trading cards, and most recently film. I have, however, always been fixated on words. I’ve spent a lifetime of—silently—reverse-reading various advertisements as well as deciphering acronyms from those company names and slogans. Watching an Allstate commercial, for instance, I will, as quickly as possible, compulsively translate You’re in Good Hands to YIGH before attempting to construct a word from said acronym. So while my initial “passion” (or, more accurately, obsession) with words is clearly present I feel that I am missing the necessary second inspiration.
While they are not passions, I do have strong interests. Cats, with their preciously shaped heads and high-caliber agility, are one of the most remarkable creatures on this planet; but I feel, somehow, as if they are not worth writing about. Perhaps I would, if cats were widely marginalized in some way but, conversely, they are cherished, spoiled. Money also takes up quite a bit of space in my mind but George Orwell said all writers are vain, selfish, and lazy; stereotypically, the wealthy encompass all of these features. Perhaps instead of supposing that I must use my writing to rescue or highlight some helpless being I should consider writing as entertainment, in which case any topic is worthwhile. But no matter what I write about, I want to use words to create images.
Like most children, I became preoccupied with creating at an early age. I grew Chia Pets, fostered sea monkeys, and developed ideal relationships with invisible friends. Before long, after the plants grew rancid, minute aquatic creatures stopped moving, and imaginary friends no longer visited, I gave up creating. As an adult, I’ve determined that I still want to create while developing a nascent skill to above-average proficiency. I’ve really only just begun writing and I do not assume—only hope—that hard work will push my talent to the desired command. I have, however, found my niche, as it were, and will continue to refine it, not stopping until, for some unpredictable reason, I must. ____________________________
I am not going to review your essay as such here, except to say that you lose your way a little, I think, in the second half with its fairly desultory list of topics vaguely related to your development as a writer. I don't really see the value of talking about nerds and acronyms and cats and money, unless the point is to attempt a surreptitious justification or, better, ironic commentary on the idea that "any topic is worthwhile." There is not enough in your treatment of those topics to clarify your experience as a writer or your understanding of the task of writing, and there is not much there that would allow one to predict the conclusions you come to in the penultimate paragraph - so the whole doesn't seem quite as coherent or cogent as it might be. Moreover, I don't think these paragraphs contribute much to the elaboration of, or answer to, your original question. In truth, having read your essay, I still do not really know why you write, which of course doesn't mean that I'm not happy that you do write.
(That's really the end of the "review”; I’ll let you worry about how to categorize what follows.)
I'm happy you write, because you write well, but I'm not convinced, if you'll forgive me for putting it this way, that you are writing with the honesty whereof you speak. You seem to me to be more interested in writing well than in writing honestly, and so begin, for instance, by adopting the voice of the mature artist reflecting on the naive child's adoption of a hackneyed plot line. You sacrifice the child here, ridiculing your younger self for the sake of establishing the present author's authority. But there is an irony that perhaps undercuts this sacrifice. For just as there are many stories of "unexpected interruption," there are also a lot of stories that attach inordinate importance to a particular childhood event as though the story of a person’s life could be seen as the necessary unfolding of an organic plot with a simple origin. The sacrifice is itself one of those "common fantasies"
That was all a bit of silly rambling, so just ignore that and think about a more concrete example of writing that is not as honest as it needs to be. Again, there is an interesting irony at work here:
"A striking feature of essayists is their honest reflection on particular, real life, issues: James Baldwin poignantly observed race in America and Pico Iyer vividly recounted his travels."
You may be wondering what's dishonest here? Well, it's the adverbs. Without them the examples don't make sense, so they are required to carry, and pretend to carry, the burden of demonstrating the honesty of Baldwin and Iyer. Perhaps "lazy" is a better word than "dishonest" for such adverbs, and while it may be true that writers are lazy, they are never permitted to be lazy in that way.