Mick Silva posted this quote on his blog, My Writer's Group:
"I think we ought to only read the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? . . . We would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." —Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors
I suppose I write (and read) first for myself. The last sentence of that quote speaks to me: "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." My internal life has always been a significant part of who I am. I've always had an active imagination and had imaginary friends much longer than anyone else I knew. I suppose I was a weird kid, but my parents loved me so it was OK. I learned to rely on my inner resources as a refuge from the kids who picked on me in grade school. That's OK, too, because I think I have more empathy for people who feel like outcasts and I know that a person doesn't have to be popular to have value.
So I told myself stories. I told myself stories for many years, but I didn't usually write them down. I'm not sure why — did I think they were too unrealistic? I remember my mom saying that of one of my childish attempts at writing. She meant well, but I think that put a damper on my desire to write things. I wrote awful, love-lorn poetry in high school. I wrote research papers and essays for school and usually was praised for my writing ability. But I didn't write stories. They just lived in my head, where I could take them out and tell them to myself whenever I wanted.
I read voraciously all this time, as well. Some of the books that stayed with me had some of the effect that Kafka describes. I began to get a sense of what a story can do by reading To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings, Alas, Babylon (which totally sucked me into the post-nuclear-holocaust world it describes), The Left Hand of Darkness, The Chronicles of Narnia.
I grew up, got married, had children, finished college, moved, had more children, began learning to be thankful in whatever state I'm in — and continued to tell myself stories.
(OK, coming is some blunt language -- just giving you some advance warning.)
But eventually I realized that just telling myself stories was only half the job. Imagining and thinking is an important part of writing — essential to writing, I believe — but if that's all you ever do it's only so much mental masturbation. It's enjoyable, but not productive or creative.
I don't know if this realization that I needed to either put this stuff down on paper or quit thinking about it was a call from God or not. I did come to believe that God didn't want me to waste my time on unproductive fantasy. I do believe that he gave me the ability and the desire to write. So I did it. I started writing. I started and scrapped several different versions of my current manuscript, Secrets in Connors Grove. I had the characters, but it took a while to find the best story to tell.
And now that I've told one story, I want to tell more. I've had these characters living in my head for a long time and they have more things they want to say. So I'm trying to let them. I still tell myself stories, but now after I've thought about it a while, I put it down on the page. And Kafka was right. It's the axe for the frozen sea inside me.