Su Young Lee—this year’s prose editor here. Currently a sophomore who hopefully and finally narrowed it down to studying English Literature, Journalism, and Creative Writing (fun fact, I’m indecisive).
Why (How) I Write
I see a man with his daughter on his lap, brushing her hair away from her small sleeping face as if they weren’t sitting in the middle of a crowded subway train. I like their intimacy and decide that maybe I’ll write about them someday. I never do. I sit in a café and eavesdrop on a job interview as the man becomes increasingly and amusingly anxious, visualizing his half-uttered sentences in the air, full of ellipses. I sit in my room on an especially bad day and decide that the imagined tragedy of how I feel will look good on paper, but all I can manage is jot down a few phrases that all sound like half-finished lines from terrible poetry—my poetry—and I throw the piece of paper away. You see, I like thinking about writing. Sometimes I convince myself I’m really a writer because all I can think about is how something will look on a page.
Then I come to my senses and decide that a writer is probably someone who actually writes. This is discouraging because writing is kind of hard. I plan characters, conversations, odd little phrases but when it comes to writing them down and filling in the gaps I find that I’m not a writer after all. Not a writer I’d like to be, or maybe I think I should be, the clichéd artist tortured by the task of translating their genius onto paper. The only thing I’m tortured by is my fear, laziness, lack of inspiration. While everything I see and hear and feel I think about writing down, it’s rare that I actually do.
This is partly why I sign up to a creative writing class. People say writing comes from the heart, the soul, from whatever other metaphorical body part, but honestly sometimes I just need someone to make me write because otherwise I never will. I have to make it inevitable because when I finally start writing I confirm what I suspected all along—that I hate writing.
This is the process of writing that I loathe: in bed. I don’t like sitting on a desk because it seems like I’m doing work, even though writing is really hard work. I put on some music before I decide that it’s distracting. I stare down at a blank piece of paper—or Word document. I tend to start with paper the first few times because I think writing by hand is romantic but I throw down my pen and hate myself finding I have more scribbles and crossed-out words than useable material. Blankness is encouraging—threatening—and maybe promising. The ugly blacked out words, however, are sad visual reminders of my failure that I’m too conceited to stand.
But if I hate it so much, why do I do it? Despite all the complaining and self-loathing, there’s something addicting about the adrenaline that comes with writing, beyond the effects of all the caffeine I consume. It’s the starting that’s hard, but once something is on the page the next words tumble after each other. I let myself ramble. When I finish the piece (the draft) it’s like finally letting out air after holding my breath. It’s at that moment when I close my laptop and go to sleep, because I conveniently write in bed, that I think I have found the reason I write. The feeling of satisfaction. There are a lot of other and often forgotten reasons too, like how I want to be eloquent but writing is the only way I can achieve it, how I like to hide behind the anonymity of words on paper, but how I also like the intimacy it provides. Sometimes I hate it because having to write something interesting is a reminder that my actual life is unexciting, but maybe I like that I can live through the pages I write. I don’t know if that’s sad. Sometimes I think being a writer means being sad—dragging up things that have happened, bad things, or things that never will.
Ultimately though, being a writer means writing. I may hate the act of writing but I love its effects, a similar relationship I have to cooking and actually eating the food. Hate the labour, if you will; devour the fruit. If I want to be a writer there’s really nothing else for me to do but write. That’s the one thing that all writers of all genres have in common—writing words, instead of just thinking about them. No matter how bad you think you are or how much you dislike the physical act of writing, writers write. So to all you aspiring writers: give yourself deadlines, make others give you deadlines, find some way to force yourself to put words on a page.