I Guess I’m an Alchemist, or Why I Write

Welcome to my first blog post ever. Yes, I confess to being, if not something of a Luddite, something of a technological dinosaur—or, if not exactly a dinosaur, then at the very least, seldom among the first to adopt any technological innovation. It was only a month ago, for example, that I signed up for a Twitter account—and God knows when I’ll do anything besides lurk in the Twittersphere. The idea of blogging, however, has finally floated around the edges of my mind long enough to sink into the realm of the possible, to become something which is no longer simply contemplated but actualized. And, for my first foray into the blogging world, it seems appropriate to use the opportunity to talk about why I write.

After all, there are plenty of other things I could be doing. So, why put words on paper—or, rather, why type characters onto a virtual page, whether that’s to create fictional characters who people a novel or to create (one hopes) entertaining or informative musings to post to a public blog for others to read? What is it about this activity that draws me? Why not read, or jog, or do yoga—or learn more about Twitter?

Perhaps the simple answer is that I like words. I enjoy a clever turn of phrase or a beautiful, striking image. I am amazed at the alchemy that can turn words on a page or a screen into multi-dimensional characters who laugh and love and hurt, and who make me laugh and love and hurt along with them. The characters don’t live on the page or the screen—what I see when I look there are only black marks on a white background. But when I read those words, the characters come alive somewhere in me—or between the book and me. And when I write I can bring characters to life for other people—or at least I can turn the characters that live in my head into black marks on a white background to be brought to life when my readers read my words.

I am fascinated by the difference between writing and other forms of art—say, painting or sculpture. I spent several years learning to work with clay. I loved throwing pots, the pliability of the clay beneath my fingers, the physical and spiritual sense of alignment when my body moved with the ball of the clay on the wheel to center, the feeling of surprise and accomplishment when the finished product came out of a wood-kiln, after several days of community firing with an entire group of potters, and I could see what we had wrought together. Many of those pots decorate my home, and I get to see them daily. They are physical artifacts that I can hold in my hands.

A book or an article or a blog post is different. While it is true that a book—at least a printed one—is also a physical artifact that can be held, the physicality of a book gives me no insight into the worlds that can be opened by the alchemical act of reading that book. And, as the success of e-books has shown, those worlds can be opened just as easily with a virtual artifact. As writers, we create something, the art of which lies not in its mere physical existence, but in its ability to continue the process of creation in the mind of the reader. How amazing is that?

And, perhaps more amazing still, is how the act of writing, of putting black marks on a white page, brings my characters to life for me. When I sit down to write, I sometimes have no idea what will show up for me, what my characters will do or say, what other characters might appear to interact with them. But something shows up, as if by magic sometimes, and suddenly the world I am creating with black marks on a white page is richer than I ever imagined it could be. The process is stunning.

So, why do I write? Because I love it, because it is creative, because it is a process of discovery, through which I learn about my world, about myself, and about the strange and interesting beings that people the light and shadowed corners of my mind. Because it feeds my soul. And because it brings me back to a place of awe at the possibilities of creation and the creative process. I guess I’m an alchemist at heart.

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