Why write?

“When you write, you go deep into your most personal place, discover and make clear to
yourself what you find. And you share your most intimate self with your reader. You imagine
your audience and you speak your truth. You know you will be understood.”

These are Adele Mendelson’s reasons for writing. You might say, well, that’s true for a
poet who writes personal stuff. It doesn’t apply to prose writers.

But the same thing does happen in stories, I believe, though it’s probably not so easy to
recognize. It happens through the action and through a change in a character. For the writer, the
personal insight may be a few steps removed. Why, for instance, did Flannery O’Conner have
the grandmother murdered after her epiphany in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”? Did something
come up for O’Conner about her family? We could ask a similar question of James Joyce, about
commitment and illusion, in his story “The Dead.”

Adele goes on, “This is a unique kind of communication. Best friends, lovers, even
spouses don’t receive this pure flow. You may speak to your husband about your work, your life,
relationship issues.

“But you don’t tell him, ‘In the earliest blue, I am gone. I’m not the me you know, I’m
far away in a space that only I can fly to. I return, put on my apron, kiss you good-bye. But one
day I may stay away. It’s not that I don’t love you. It’s because I am more – boundless, unknown,
hungry, free – ’”

How can you tell somebody words like those? Adele says you might not even know the
words until you write them. And you don’t say these things because other people “operate on a
different level.” She might have said that the poet operates on a more authentic level. In writing
and rewriting and thinking again, you reach for your exact, intimate meaning. “The poem is a
bridge from my mind to yours.”

This is close to what Allen Ginsberg says. “Poetry is not an expression of the party line.
It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world
public, that’s what the poet does.”

The power we experience in writing may be beyond anything. One grain of authenticity
may be worth all the self-doubt, all the naked feeling, all the struggle with demons. It weighs
more than a mountain of effort and pain. It’s life-changing and enduring. It stymies any system
of cost analysis.

One grain of authenticity. Go figure.