By Christina Katz
Sustenance is an especially good word to describe why I write. I write to sustain myself. I write to nourish myself and others. I write for money, sure. Why shouldn’t I? But I also write to provide for others and to be provided for by my own words.
I’ve heard a lot of writers say, “I write because I can’t not write.” In fact, I’ve heard this line so often, it has become a cliché for me.
I am capable of not writing. Certainly I’ve had periods in my life where I wrote less than I do now. But if I look more closely at my past, I realize that I was writing. I was journaling and eventually journaling led me back to writing for others.
So even when I tend to think I wasn’t writing, I was. I’ve pretty much been writing my entire adult life. I’ve filled notebook after notebook and now I write book after book, article after article, column after column. Sometimes I think I don’t even realize how prolific I am.
Conversely, when I write for others, I tend to journal less. Or at least, I tend to journal less formally and more irregularly. Journaling becomes more like jottings. Just a quick splash on paper to figure out what I’m trying to say. When I’m writing a lot, I lean towards a sketchbook page rather than a lined notebook. Perhaps all my deadline writing causes my mind to crave the blank white space.
As a kid, I filled a manila folder with my accumulated writings. What is it about the slow accumulation of words, then paragraphs, and finally pages that gives sustenance to the kind of person who loves to write?
I relish the alchemy of mind meeting paper. I never tire of it. I delight in the unlimited possibilities. Yet the slow, methodical process of laying down words is grounding, as well. Words are like clay. You can sculpt them into one thing and then smash them back together and start over again. You wouldn’t want to preserve anything but your best work in final form, but you love the grit under your fingernails and the give and take of the words in your hands, you eagerly anticipate the final polished piece.
Doesn’t this really describe more than writing because you can’t not write? To me that expression sounds like a mosquito bite that you can’t not scratch. I believe that writing runs a lot deeper than a response to an external irritation. Perhaps the writer is more like the oyster kneading the piece of sand into something exquisite, or the potter kneading the clay into something more than a pot that merely contains.
So many writers sure seem to have transformed a nervous habit into something more precious. I have a fairly intense personality, so maybe I write to temper my more extreme urges. Maybe I write because each word is like a tiny weight mooring me a little bit more into this world and preventing me from floating away. Maybe every word of mine I see on paper is a tiny acquisition of myself, the act of self-claiming, the declaration of being.
Rather then writing as a raison-d’etre, then, perhaps writing is the affirmation of what already is. A way of saying what is and is not true. Each word a step closer to substance. Each session calling us to become our own disciple. Reminding us to not give ourselves away. But to own it. Every single word. All of it, sustenance.
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.