Friday, November 23, 2012

Why I Became a Writer

Today, a number of professional writers with blogs have gotten together to write the same post “Why I Became a Writer.” Please stop by any or all of their blogs to comment and find out what drives us in our favorite obsession.  My post follows the links.

John Brantingham and Sunny Frazier








Chris Swinney



Stephen Brayton




Why I Became a Writer or
Why What’s Good for the Writer is not Always Good for the Reader
If I tell you I was a psychologist and college professor before I retired and took up writing murder mysteries, you won’t be surprised if I admit I did so for purposes of revenge, that cathartic release that comes with venting.  Psychologists embrace catharsis because it’s assumed to be good for the psyche, cleans out the cobwebs of anger, disgust, and dislike and allows the person to move on emotionally.  My first manuscript was one in which the bad guys were the administrators and professors who “done me wrong” all the years I was in higher education, a place that shares the competitiveness and back-biting with most large businesses, but disguises those unsavory elements by purporting to be a learning environment.  We educators try to keep all that bad stuff a secret.

That manuscript didn’t even try to disguise the identities of the people I sought to pillory.  It was never published (I’m so grateful).  I did learn from it, however.  First, I found killing off people you don’t like on paper is quiet satisfying, the more so because you never have to pay for your crime.  After over one hundred thousand words of bile that I was wise enough to bind in humor, I felt a sense of catharsis, but no feeling of accomplishment.  Catharsis for the writer is not always good reading.  It’s selfish.  When I finally had the sense to wrap my characters in reality, give them reasonable motivations for their behavior, forgive them their flaws by playing them up to be funny and disguised them as characters, not the original perpetrators of my anger and disgust, I realized the most important lesson of all—I had a story.  It was a tale where I trusted readers through my descriptions of events, characters interacting with one another and a spritely plot to arrive at their own conclusions about how much drawing and quartering should be directed at the now not-so-bad as misdirected folks.  Oh yeah, the killer was still a despicable person, but you’d never recognize the murderer as anyone of my former colleagues.

Here’s the second big thing I learned.  You’ll always find there is someone in your life who will treat you unfairly and you’ll find unpleasant.  So why hold a grudge?  Simply write those situations into a story and bump off the guy.  There’s no need to identify him as your next door neighbor or the woman in your exercise class.  Allow, as I do, an alligator to death roll the witch from the checkout line.  Whatever you do, transform your most hated enemy into a most unforgettable character, but do it in such a way that all the anger is gone, and the character is unrecognizable as someone you know or hated to know.  You’ll have a heck of a good time writing it all, and your reader will love you for it.

No more catharsis for me.  Just fun writing.