Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why I Blog

The Writers Guild of America strike, now in its eleventh week, has produced an interesting byproduct (I mean besides the cancellation of the Golden Globes Awards telecast). A new blog called "Why We Write" started 23 days ago, and each day another member of the Guild writes a short essay explaining his or her raison d'être. It has contained informative and entertaining stuff, although I personally could do without the increasingly obligatory four-letter words. On one of my bookshelves is a book entitled, "Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction" that I bought in 1998; it includes essays by Norman Mailer and Pat Conroy and Terry McMillan and Richard Ford, twenty-six people in all. Now that my blog is almost four months old (glory be! who woulda thunk?), the time has come for me to think out loud about why I decided to start blogging.

In December of 1972, when I was thirty-one years old, I wrote my first poem. I know the date because the poem's title is "December, 1972." Clever, huh? I put it in a folder and put the folder in a desk drawer. Over the years since then, I have added another poem occasionally to the folder. I say occasionally because the folder now contains around 40 poems, not enough to make a book, but too many to ignore. They call to me from their desk drawer.

In 2006, when I was sixty-five years old, I started writing a book (who hasn't?) and it was finished in time to give each of my children a copy at Christmas 2007. Thanks to the Fed Ex-Kinko people, there are exactly four spiral-bound copies of my book in existence: the three I gave away and the one I kept. My book's title is Billy Ray Barnwell Here (The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind). You can say you read about it here first. Midway down the title page are the words "Not a memoir...Not an autobiography...Not Grapevine, Texas" and at the very bottom are the words "A Truly-Godawful Book" (which doesn't necessarily mean what you might be thinking). I'm not sure what I intended my book to be, but it turned out to be what it is. If it's a novel, it's a most unconventional one. I broke, on purpose, every rule of writing known to man. For example, the first sentence is 274 words long and there are more commas than you could shake a stick at. Maybe one day my book will find a publisher who will distribute even more copies. One can only hope. Why did I write it? Because I could, I suppose. In the meantime, while waiting for lightning to strike, I blog.

Writing/blogging is a form of self-expression, of course, but self-expression can also be achieved by throwing rocks at passing cars. Not that I would ever do that. When someone once asked Georgia's own Flannery O'Connor why she wrote, she answered bluntly, "Because I'm good at it." I hope that's one of my reasons too, but I would never be so bold as to say it out loud. Oops, I think I just did. (That's the thing about blogging, people can read your mind. If you're not ready for them to, maybe you'd better not start.) Mama always said, "Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back." Listening to your Mama can be quite instructive, depending on the kind of Mama you have. If you weren't happy with yours, you can always put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and tell the whole wide world about it. The world may or may not choose to listen. That's strictly up to them.

I think a third reason I write is to make a difference. When Paul Revere (or Dr. Samuel Dawes or whoever the historians have decided it was) went riding through the Massachusetts countryside yelling "The British are coming! The British are coming!" one April night in 1775, his chief reward was that someone out there was listening. I can only hope to be as fortunate.

A fourth reason I write is to discover who I am. As T. S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding, "We shall not cease from exploration. And the result of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Perhaps I have just begun to answer the question, "Why do I write?" Perhaps I'll be writing more on the subject later.


  1. Wow, another great post to add to your growing chain of great posts!

    I started blogging almost a year ago. It seems very natural.....the narrative thats forever been running through my head is now channeled out onto my blog. Its therapeutic to get it out of my head, evidently, for I feel better when I blog regularly.

  2. Thanks for the update....guess complaining helps....Glad all's going so well!
    Guess Who!