I'm not sure why writers wonder about why they do what they do so much. Come on, you know we do it. Sometimes we stare at the blank page, the empty computer screen and go: WHY AM I DOING THIS?
The Tollbooth is essentially a craft blog. We try to look at tools at becoming a better writer, solid ways of showing not telling, good dialogue tips, structure. Yet, I think one of the tools at becoming a better writer is understanding THE WHY of why we write. It's not always a simple reason or easy to discover. It's not a set of reasons that applies to everyone.
That’s part of it for me. There’s more. I write because I am trying to understand things that make no sense. I write because I want to find that tiny core of truth in events that are beyond me. I write because I want.
This week I’m going to look at why I write, which seems self indulgent, but maybe it will help you understand why you write, and maybe understanding that motivation will help us find the truth in ourselves and in our stories.
This is one of the reasons why I write:
Ellsworth point guard Nate Jackson slams up the court, dribbling hard. One arm points to his team’s center. The center nods, hustles to the end of the box, faking a play. He plants his feet there exactly the way Nate wants him to. The opposing team follows, thinking that Nate will pass the center the ball. They don’t even see Nate plant his own feet outside that three-point line. He lifts the ball above his head, aiming for the basket.
It is a perfect arch, three-point shot. Nate’s faked out the entire team. They were all looking at the center. Nobody’s even there to grab the rebound.
The fans go wild. Nate smiles. He steals a pass, lays it into the basket in one neat move. In the stands, we all jump onto our feet and make individual noises that sound like thunder. A senior girl behind me says, “He is so gorgeous.”
Nate takes the ball up the court again, fakes like he’s going right, but he goes left; faking us all out one more time: players, fans, coaches.
Nate was good at that: at faking us out.
A couple years later, I see it in the Ellsworth American, our local paper. Nate Jackson’s senior picture stares at me. It’s not on the sports’ page. It’s not in the college notes. It’s an obit.
Nate Jackson was dead at 20. That might seem old if you’re – I don’t know – eight -- , but it’s not. He wasn’t old enough to drink, legally, but he did. Nobody’s ever old enough to do drugs, legally, but Nate did.
That’s why he died.
At Nate’s funeral that week, a lot of people cried. Girls. Grown-ups. Big, handsome, ball players. His parents. That center Nate faked plays to. A lot of us. We all cried.
Nate Jackson didn’t die because of pot. He died because of oxycontin and heroin.
Oxycontin is a pain reliever. You can chew it, dissolve it in water and inject it, or snort it. A 10-mg tablet of costs around $8. An 80-mg tablet costs around $70. It is addictive. If you take too high a dose you can die.
Heroin is called hell dust, smack, thunder and nose drops. It’s a powder, white when pure. You can inject it, smoke it or snort it. It costs anywhere between $13,000 to $200,000 for a kilogram depending on the country of origin and the supplier. It is addictive. It can cause seizures, put you in a coma, infect your heart. It can kill you.
Nate Jackson was just a baby, not even old enough to drink. Sometimes if I close my eyes, I can see him, not in his coffin, but slamming up the court. He points one way. He fakes another. He hauls that ball up and it floats off his fingertips and flies.
J. Michael Straczynski wrote, “Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words – the words live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.”
Nate is one of my characters. I’ll never say which one. But I put him in a book without even thinking about it. Probably because I want him to live. That’s one of the reasons I write, I think. It’s not because I want to continue like Straczynski does. It’s because I want other people to continue. I want them to have the lives they deserve, not the deaths they get.
*I changed Nate's name.