Saturday, May 07, 2005

The inexplicable nature of writing

Lately, my work day has been all about the new book. It’s sort of like bringing a new baby home. The phone rings incessantly, and someone seems to need me constantly. Frequently updating Net pages, responding to questions from my publisher, talking to festival and events directors, planning booksignings with stores—there don’t seem to be enough hours in a day.

Ironically, at times like this, my writing output stays constant or actually increases. Poems form without much effort, at least the first drafts anyway. And as we put this book to bed and my publisher prepared to take over the book I’d nurtured for three years, an email arrived that changed my life and my plans.

I’d returned to a partial manuscript, a novel that I started while I was writing Earl. But I opened my email one morning to find an appeal from a woman. She’s friends with a young man, Taylor G. Wells, who is serving a life sentence in prison for murder.

Because I’d written for prisoner rehabilitation programs, and once mentored a gifted writer in the prison system, I didn’t dwell too much on the stranger’s appeal in my inbox. No prisoner in his right mind wants to remain in jail. But later that day I reread her message. I looked at a photograph of the young man doing time. He has big, expressive eyes. He looks like a kid, even though he’s 30 years old. His friend sent me a lot of information, and also posted information on a Net site she created.

As I began to sort through trial transcripts, depositions, and newspaper stories, I realized that this young man’s story needed to be told. After weeks of questioning, corresponding with him, and cross-checking facts, I realized that sometimes things happen for a reason. I talked the case over with a highly regarded criminal justice expert who agreed to help. And I began to write a new book.

I told a friend of mine who directs a creative writing program that somehow, as I saw my new book come to fruition, I also grew a new poetry collection and started a new nonfiction book. In between, I wrote articles for magazines and pitched a new editor. During the last year, I traveled thousands of miles, from Texas to Hawaii, with my poetry book.

Who can explain it? A writer just writes, and somehow, we find the time to do it in between work projects, volunteer projects, and our duties to our families. I don’t know why this is, why we can’t resist the tango with the paper and ink. It doesn’t even matter if it’s published. It just matters that we find a way to do it. Inexplicable, this writing dependency. And so necessary, if, like me, you are hooked.

No comments: