People ask me why I write. When I was younger, I dreamed of being published, and I have explained why I write. Simply put, I write for my characters, and I write for myself. It might seem selfish, and I understand that. I also don’t care. Writing is the way I learn, the way I make sense of the world around me. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t used writing to interact with the broad range of experiences that life has to offer. And the more I write, the more I discover.
Usually when you think of writing, there are the essentials you learn in k – 12 English classes. There are the basics of plot, characters, dialogue, climax, setting, resolution, and so on. The point is usually the mechanics, driving the story along, using proper spelling and grammar and punctuation. Add in enough imagination to keep others entertained and you’re sold, right? Well, not quite. For me, not even close.
My writing is more like a dream state. Whether poetry or prose, my words come best when fluid, unaware, unforced. I’ve already known this in part, as my best lines and ideas come in that limbo just between sleeping and waking. However, there is another sort of limbo that also applies, a dream state where I suspend between two extremes and find myself somewhere within, between opposing ideas. To some degree, it could be said that I am habitually numb. I am quite passionate about people, and I believe in the stories that we represent and have to tell. I have hobbies that I love–reading, writing, baking and cooking, art, music. At the same time, despite all of this, I often find it impossible to attach myself to others. I bear no ill-will, but perhaps something even more frightening–a distant, dead apathy. To feel of my own volition is, for all practical purposes, impossible.
But that makes little to no sense, unless you understand that I can’t feel because there is no room for me to feel. I am attuned to other’s emotions in a way that can be most frustrating, at times. You could say I’m overly perceptive, or hyper-sympathetic to others. Most often,I feel other people’s emotions so much that I don’t have any room left to feel anything myself–or know what I’m feeling if I indeed get to that point. But how can you not know if, when, or what you are feeling? Easy–you spend 19 years dealing with other people’s emotions instead of your own. You bury yours so deep, shut them off for so long, that if or when they surface, you have no language to put them in. You have no working concept of what it means to be sad, relaxed, embarrassed, proud, lonely, or loved. (Case in point, I had to go find a feeling chart for those examples. I can’t name feelings, save my standard “frustrated,” “fine,” and “tired,” the last of which doesn’t really count.) So you see, although I have convictions and a conscience, and can sympathize with others, I also have little ability to feel on my own.
Enter the dream state–writing. And here, I must explain myself again. The dream state is that of feeling–often that which I am incapable to feel on my own. I say I write for my characters, because they have stories that need to be told. My writing is always character driven, because I am most interested in how a person, made up of any number of characteristics and personality traits. can grow and be shaped by the infinite number of situations they might find themselves in. I am interested in the choices made, the regrets, the victories, the challenges. I’m interested in how we, as people, live our lives. I say I write for myself because, as my characters come to learn to express themselves, they teach me how to express myself. They teach me opinions, they teach me choices, they teach me lifestyles. It could be said that I learn more from fictional characters than anyone else in my life. I wouldn’t deny it.
In this way, my characters are surrogates. Some people read books (myself included) and get angry at the characters for stupid decisions, blunders, and general foolishness. We know what’s better for them, the mate they should have had, the road they should have taken. We scream at the seemingly inconsistent actions and emotions. But as a writer, I know that it’d not the author’s fault. We often set about to tell a story that turns out to be something completely different–and what it ends up being is what it was destined to be all along. I know my characters have their own stories to teal, and I cannot force them to be something other than what they are and are supposed to become. Only they know that who that is, and only they can get there. I know the events that take place–mostly. I don’t know the collateral damage (or healing) that will happen along the way. They evolve, they grow, and I get to see who they are. I get to know them.
Remember, I am highly sympathetic. I am overly-perceptive of how people feel. My characters, then, allow me a freedom that I am rarely afforded. The dream becomes not only feeling, but to become free enough to feel everything that my characters do and also recognize where, when, and how I experience those feelings myself. The dream is the beauty of desire, the tragedy of loss and hurt and despair, and the eternity of hope. Writing becomes not mechanics then, although they are incredibly important and useful, but instead it is achieving the dream state where I can feel for myself, where I can be grateful and rejoice in the richness of human experience. But like every dream, I must wake. I cannot spend every moment writing, for reasons spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychological. The space between my words brings my greatest longing to dream again, and when the time is right, the words will come.
Learning To Live Through Dreams,