Because I Can

Maria Schneider at Editor Unleashed and Mark Coker at Smashwords are offering $500 for the best essay on Why I Write. The following is my entry. (Note: due to technical problems with the EU Forum, the contest deadline has been extended.)

I write because I can.

I can because I got lucky. I was born in a family that values the written word, in a town that values writing, in a state that values literacy, in a country that was founded on a document. Every cultural break a writer can get, I got, save being born rich. I didn’t choose where I was born and I didn’t value these things when I was young, but they stood as open doors and affected me greatly. I got lucky and I never forget it.

I write because I can.

I can because I live in a free country. I have the right to say what I think, even if you disagree. Even if everyone disagrees. I know all people do not have this right. I know there are countries where writers cannot be true to their reality and imagination. I do not take my freedom for granted.

I write because I can.

I can because I protected the writer in me from every teacher who tried to kill it. I loved writing when I was young, as long as I was allowed to write the way I wanted to write. I hated writing when someone told me how to write. I flunked a class in junior high rather than turn in a five-page science paper. You laugh, but it’s the truth. I never got over the idea that a thesis statement was redundant. I never got past the certainty that the lede in a newspaper article belonged at the end. I knew these things were wrong, instinctively. You don’t start a murder mystery by announcing that the butler did it.

I write because I can.

I can because I tried everything else first. I looked at every job, every career — anything to avoid writing, because I knew I loved it and I knew how hard it would be to care. I tried the blue-collar life. I tried nine to five. I went to college and pretended I was a psychology major. I took a long look at philosophy, even though I knew there was more to life than logic and reason. I took a lot of classes, but I never clicked with any subject the way I clicked with the ideas and words patiently waiting to get out of my head. I was those words.

I write because I can.

I can because every time I look at a blank page I’m seduced by the possibilities. I have never feared a blank page in my life. I can’t wait to gather small strands of nothing until they begin to talk to each other and fuse and give off heat. I see such connections the way other people see contrails in the sky and skid marks on the street.. They are as plain to me. I write them down because I think others would like to see them, too.

I write because I can.

I can because I trust myself. I don’t do things that undermine my own confidence. I try to eat well. I exercise. I am conscious of how fragile writing is, and I try to protect my writing by taking care of the writer I am. Life intrudes, yes. But I’m not sabotaging myself. I know I will meet my deadlines. I may pound my head on my desk from time to time, but that’s the way some stories are. Some births are easy, some are hell.

I write because I can.

I can because there is nothing else. I don’t have questions about what I should have done with my life. I don’t have regrets. I don’t ever wonder if I made the right choice. I know I made the right choice. Long before my peers settled on a career I knew there was nothing for me but writing. I knew there would be no road-not-taken. Frustrations, sure, I’ve got plenty. But I wouldn’t trade the gifts I was born with for the crosses I bear.

I write because I can.

I can because I am still alive. Whatever your beliefs about an afterlife, you only get so many years to write. If you want to write and you don’t write then you blew it. I’m trying not to blow it. I don’t want to die thinking I missed my chance. Existentialism is a big word for taking advantage of the life you have. Take advantage of the life you have.

Write. Because you can.

— Mark Barrett