Chunk Wendig posted a challenge last Friday. A non-fiction essay, no more than 1000 words, about why we write.

The short answer is: I write because I have stories in my head and I write because of a life long love of reading. See, there we go, all nice and wrapped up in less than fifty words.

But… that’s not the whole story, not really. For the whole story, we have to go back in time almost thirty years, and you’ll have to indulge me in accepting the truth of the memoir. (Events happened mostly like this, but we’re relying on my rather shaky remembrances)

When people ask me what my first real memory is, I tell them about a nightmare that I had when I was three or four. My parents read me to me every night since I learned to crawl, and that night was no exception. The book of the night was the classic story ‘The Three Little Pigs’. I listened raptly to the tale of a hungry wolf and three brother’s attempt to escape him. I was spellbound, but I felt a dark seed worm its way into my imagination. For you see, I was an anxious child, and preschool was only a few weeks away.

That night, I dreamt of my first day of school, but the wolf followed close. When we were let out for recess, spread far and wide, the wolf attacked and I ran and I ran, but the other kids ran faster. I was almost at the schoolhouse door when I saw the look of terror on the teacher’s face, the same instant I felt the wolf’s shadow fall over me. She slammed the door, sacrificing me to save the other children.

I woke up screaming.

My cries disturbed my parents, so my father came in to check on me. In between wailing sobs, I told him what was wrong. He smiled sympathetically, telling me there was nothing to fear, that it was a dream, and a story. Just a story. He wrapped me up in a bear hug. Nothing could comfort me. So he told me a new story, one of heffalumps and woozles that fought wolves and protected young children.

I calmed down. I went back to sleep. I learned the protective power of stories.

I tell people that’s my first memory because it’s a good one, but my first memory is of a plate shattering just a little too close to my head, thrown by one of my parents at the wall I happened to be cowering against as they fought. I’m positive they didn’t know I was there until I screamed in terror.

Many people have had it worse than I did. I always knew I was loved. They never blamed me for what they were going through. But they fought. Constantly. Come to think of it, that might explain why I grew up with mostly plastic cups. But I digress. This is just a variation on the same old story, kid has a not so spectacular home life, kid escapes into books.

And escape I did. I read voraciously. My parents learned to fear the scholastic book-fair. My mom got a job at a book store, mostly so she could bring me home stacks of stripped books because they couldn’t afford to keep up with my reading habit. I almost got run over while walking home in fifth grade, reading the collected Dragonlance Chronicles.

Time passed, and I realized these books did more than help me escape. They taught me the basics of learning (Imagine having to explain to your eight year old that he needed to look for context clues to figure out what “disemboweled” meant). They taught me to face my fears. They taught me to question.

I write to bring my fears into the open. I write to adventure into the unknown. I write to raise questions. I write because I can’t not write.

There are undiscovered worlds out there, waiting for us to find them. Technology and society are growing in changing in ways we can never predict. We need new tales, new interpretations, new voices.

I write because I’m sitting with the world around a campfire, telling tales to keep the shadows at bay.


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