Burning to Write

You lie in your bed, trying to dose off. It is nearing two a.m. and tomorrow, you have to wake up at six to prepare for a calculus exam or to go to work. The equivalent of being flash-fried in lava. You need sleep, but then a new sentence crawls through your head. Hours ago, you might have fought it. You might have decided sleep was a better fate. But of course every night, you think these lines are genius so you wretch yourself up. Slough across the room like a survivor after a nuclear attack. You’ve left the file open because this has become tradition. You expect yourself to forgo sleep in the sake of transcribing words from your mind. Once you start, you may not stop. You may continue typing until morning. Banging out the first draft of a story or finishing a chapter or two.

You’re a writer.

Don’t worry too much if you display these symptoms. I’ve caught the bug too, a long time ago. Ever since I could hold a pencil and make the squiggly lines we call a language. Maybe this is supposed to make you feel better. Or maybe you’re smacking your head. How could you be so stupid? Who chooses a story over sleep, food, and going to the bathroom?

There comes an urgency about penning a line. A certain insatiable need. Like you’re so turned on by the thought of writing you can’t not help yourself. Satisfy your need. The urge then comes back again and again. Just in the form of lines, for me. I’ll lay awake and think of something clever. I must write it down. Once I succumb, there’s no stopping me. Am I comparing writing to something sexual, sensual? Sure. But it has less to do with the body, more with the mind. A hunger that compels you. Even when you topple over, retching up all the words, you rearrange that word vomit and try to glean a story from it. A moral.

Writers don’t get paid much. Any delusions about churning out books at your leisure will be shot down quickly. You don’t do it to eat, per se. You write for the sake of writing. Sometimes, a story or poem will contain social commentary. An overarching theme that defines human existence. A great story that we enjoy. But at the end of the day, we create art for the sake of art. No one needs writers the way people need doctors. Let’s face it: we’re purely here for entertainment. Yet even if no one read books (as sometimes might seem the case), we keep writing. Because writing is what we do.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on February 21, 2012, in dreams, Humor, Language, novel, Poetry, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Word! (I know this deserved a more articulate response, but that encompassed everything I was thinking when I read this.)

  2. So true. We aren’t guaranteed large sums of $$$; not guaranteed a lavish lifestyle – yet we keep writing. We’re either insane or the happiest people on earth! 🙂
    I’ll take both! 😉

    Vicki

  3. havepenwillscribble

    From A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, on the bothersome talkative who want to speak to you as you’re writing:

    “Now you could get out and hope it was an accidental visit and that the visitor had only come in by change and there was not going to be an infestation…”

    Please don’t name call me, as Hem might have, but I would like to speak to you as you are writing, for surly there is not ever a time when you are not.

    Turn reflection of me back into the world! Get out, get some exercise; do not burn out your amazing talent as you are just getting started.

    I got old before my time searching just that right word.

    I got bit too, but the bug that bit me seems to have saved the best of the bite for you.

    • I always find time to do other things. Believe me, I’m doing other things most of the time. Without living, it’s damned hard to write a good story. When you feel the need to write, however, it is difficult not to. You sometimes feel compelled to. Even early in the morning. I’m not saying I write all the time, 24/7, but that I often get swept up by the rush of doing it.

  4. True ’nuff. I’m hoping someday my son will read my memoir even if no one else does. He’ll probably wait until I die. That’s fine, I wouldn’t want to hear him correct my recollections.

  1. Pingback: Evolution of Writing (Part 3): Who Is, and Who is not, a writer? « Word Salad

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