Until recently, this was not a prompt that I could answer. I did not write. I wanted to write, and as much as I would like to blame life and my commitments for interfering, I believe it was fear that kept me from writing—fear that I would fail, or that it would be too difficult. I did, however, accomplish the next best thing—I read.
When I was seven years old, my family moved to Montana after my father, a former city manager in Pennsylvania, turned in a group of politicians to a prosecuting attorney for accepting bribes. Unfortunately, the attorney was in on the scheme, and my dad was blacklisted. So, in Montana we survived on my mother’s sparse income as an accountant for a school district. We had no television and no expensive holidays. Our recreational activities were relegated to anything with the word “free” in front of it, and playing outside would lose its allure after a couple of hours, so reading became my escape from the mundane.
During the summer vacations from school, my sanctuary was the local public library. I would ride my bike to the small brick building on Main Street to check out books, oftentimes meeting the daily limit of nine. Then I would return home, weighed down by my load, and I wouldn’t leave my room until I had devoured works by Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Stephen King.
During the school year, my grades often suffered as I lost focus and daydreamed. I would hide books full of Ancient Greece mythology or tales of knights, like Le Morte d’Arthur, inside my textbooks so that my teachers thought I was studying, but really I was reading about Zeus, Artemis, and Excalibur. I would try to craft my own stories of heroes and legends, knights and dragons, which were filled with the fanciful immaturity of a middle-schooler.
My grades may have been poor, particularly in math—which I hated—but my father began to require that I complete book reports during summer vacation to assure that I could write competently. My father was a lifetime scholar, and he wanted to ensure that his children understood how to write clearly and concisely. He also wanted to ensure that we read the books that had influenced his life—For Whom the Bell Tolls, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, and Pilgrim’s Progress, among others. So, during the summers, I would read as my father directed. I frequently enjoyed the books, and I relished the process of writing and editing until the report met my father’s approval.
Perhaps it was my father’s demands for perfection that sparked my fear of failure, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is that as soon as I knew I wanted to be a writer, I stopped writing for any reason other than what school or my father required of me. Call it the ultimate stage fright. Perhaps it is as Stephen King said in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” It simply took me twenty years to begin.
Now, I am in my thirties and have had the chance to reevaluate my dreams and ambitions. I have a beautiful family. I served in the Army for nearly a decade, meeting vast numbers of interesting and inspiring people along the way and bearing witness to carnage I had not envisioned as a part of my life. I have never stopped reading with an appetite that borders on voracity. I want to write, even if it is only for a hobby—a pastime as I continue to improve my meager talents. Yes, I want nothing more than to tell stories and for thousands of people to fall in love with them, and I know it’s a difficult and rare thing to achieve. I will be happy simply to try.
I Write to Please My Father
My father has been dead for more than seven years. His battle with cancer ended his life too early to meet his grandsons or even to see his son return from Afghanistan. My father had dabbled in writing humorous stories about growing up in Pennsylvania and learning to fish in the 1950s and ‘60s, but he never pursued publishing. I don’t know why. I write to honor the memory of the father who demanded my sentences attain clarity. I write because he cannot. I write, because somewhere in my stories, my father shines through, and perhaps my sons will learn something of his character and humor.
I Write to Learn
Until I returned to school in 2014, ten years had passed since I had written anything—even if only for an academic purpose. Call it fear, laziness, or distraction, the fact remains that I have much to learn. I have always maintained some writing talent, but whether it is innate or pummeled in by my parents, I do not know. Still, I have a fervent desire to improve upon it. I want to tell stories that inspire, that move to tears and rage, and that make people want to read more.
I have learned so much in the last two years—grammar, form, style, and mechanics—which I have been able to incorporate into my writing and teach to others. I write because, in the process, I learn my weaknesses, my strengths, and how to improve.
I Write because I Am a Heartless Bastard
I have served under officers who have tried to coerce me to lie and falsify reports. I have met people who have cheated on spouses and lovers. I have stood by and seen people lie about false acts of heroism. I have seen all this and worse. I have always lacked the power to do anything but stand by and—at most—refuse to follow along in their schemes. Writing grants me the opportunity to illustrate these people through my words. It grants me some measure of retribution.
I Write Because I Fear
I have often been confronted with death in my life. My uncles and grandparents died when I was young. A girlfriend and a best friend from the military both died of blood cancer. I have seen the death of friends, strangers, and enemies during my military service. Most significant was the death of my father, whom I still greatly miss.
I write because I fear that my memories and my stories will not otherwise be retained for my wife and children. If I should die without reaching old age, how will my children learn who I was—my dreams and ambitions, my hopes and fears? I write so that there will always be a memory for my children to step into as they read my words—experiencing my life through my craft.
I Write to be Honest
Writing allows me to confront my demons, my fears, and my shames with full-honesty—even if that honesty is only to myself. Before I began writing, I would often have moments of despair marked by an inability to communicate my feelings to anyone, even to those I love.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I have found that it is the type of bleeding that seems to clear the body of deadly toxins, cleansing the infections that lurk below the surface. Writing has given me the ability to examine my innermost thoughts and my darkest depressions with an objectivity that allows some measure of healing. There’s nothing like a little bloodletting for health.
I may never publish a story or poem, and if that is the case, I will learn to live with that fact. Nonetheless, writing grants me peace and calm I would not otherwise have—space to clear my head of my ceaseless ramblings and darker noises. Now that I have begun writing, I will continue to do so even if I am bled dry.