Why Write? Continued


Since there was such a strong response to John's post about why we write, we thought it would be great to get another writer's perspective on that fundamental question.

And who better to throw in her two cents than The Writing Life veteran, Esther Cohen? Nobody, that's who. Take it away, Esther!

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b Today's post is in response to a question many of you have asked: Why write? I've been thinking about that a lot. It's something about the pen, and my notebooks. I love them both. Micro thin pens (I like Uniball and Pentel. But there are others. I am not pen exclusive. I've never had a Mont Blanc. And if I did, I'd probably lose it).

I've bought notebooks with my money as early as I could. The last few years I've gotten gray hard covers, at the Hallmark Store on Main Street in Catskill. $2.49.  I'm in love with words, too. Indiscriminate, funny, loud and quiet words. Just words. I write on anything I can find if a notebook's not around: menus, Staples' cheapest copying paper. Once I wrote poems throughout my White Pages Phone Book, A to Z poems through the margins. I love the writing itself, words I know and words I don't and words I overhear and words I see and words I just imagine. I've been listening forever.

As a child, I'd sit on the stairs after bedtime, my ear to the heating grate. If what was said downstairs was even a little bit interesting, the speaker didn't matter, I'd write down the words. The subject often had the identical preface: Did You Hear. Did you hear that old Mrs. Steel was actually a witch? Did you hear that Cousin Tillie fell out of love with her husband Max? Did you hear that Anna Demosthenes, the principal of the grammar school, was in love with the school librarian? Love was most often the subject.

I began a handwritten newsletter, called Gab (Blab was my first choice for a title but my father said Gab was better, I believed him) where I wrote stories based on what I overheard. Some were neighborhood scoops, though I never thought of myself as a reporter because I loved making up the details. Joan M, anxious for Mr. Right, went on a blind date with Mary's cousin Ed. (Are there deaf dates? I have always wondered.) She wore earrings mad from feathers she found on her hedge. Ed said her earrings were objectionable. That was it for Joan and Ed, in the version I wrote back then, my own particular Ibsen tale. Joan walked away from Ed. In real life they married three months later. They never liked each other all that much, but that's a story we all know.

What about you? Why do you write? And where do you find your subjects?

Yours, Esther

Esther Cohen shares her writing life on the WEbook blog and teaches Good Stories at Manhattanville College. She’s the author of 5 books,
Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree. Read more about Esther's Writing Life.

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  1. I have created stories since before elementary school. My mom kept a story that I dictated to her before I went to school. I drew pictures and she pasted them onto the page and wrote what I told her. It was a story about Mickey Mouse and his evil kingdom in the sky. The main characters were named "Chair" and other objects around the house. I created because they're fun.
    The real question is "why". I don't know I have the answer to that but I can tell you I still create. I don't write habitually, if I did I would probably have finished something by now, but I can't stop writing.
    I too have favorite pens. Currently the Uniball Signo Extra Fine, and I have notebooks everywhere with ideas, characters, and notes. I finally took a page from my wife's organization and I purchased a Moleskin notebook. I don't know that it has helped my writing any, but it makes me feel better.
    What I have noticed is that for a writer, you can't stop the story or characters. I have a number of stories that I've started. I'll write for a while and then put it down because life gets "too busy" - at least that's what I tell myself (and that makes me feel better). But inevitably, the NEED to write that story comes back and I have to return to pen and paper until that need goes away and life returns to being too busy.
    I guess for me, a good story is about good characters. Really good characters can make a bad story tolerable but a good story without good characters is just boring.
    My wife and I keep a notebook of characters. As we hear something on the radio or TV about someone who does something terribly stupid or strange we say "that would make a great character" and we jot it down.
    Most of my ideas come from real life happenings. I'll hear a news story or see an event take place and ask.. "what would that story be like if this happened"... and down it goes into the notebook.
    I'm sure that as long as the voices don't stop completely, I'll finally finish something.

  2. When life gets crazy writing keeps me sane.

  3. I have always had nightmares and very vivid dreams. A doctor told me to keep a notebook of them when I was in first grade... and the habit started. I write stories about the characters that appear in my dreams, nightmares, and fantasies... it's as if they already exist, it's my job to embody them.


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