Laura Williams ~
My debut book of poetry, Granddaughter of Dust, has just come out, and I’m in the midst of data collection for my dissertation, which focuses on print literacy, so I’ve been thinking about why people write lately.
The other night at dinner, I was talking with my mom about the daily writings I’m doing for my thesis. That led to a discussion about why in general I write. The easiest way to put it is that I write because I can’t not. My mom said that there are two reasons people write: 1) immortality so that they won’t be forgotten and 2) to understand themselves or the world.
That’s not a new thought. People have said stuff like that for years. But for some reason, when she said it at dinner it just hit me. I began thinking of myself in the context of my writing history. I’ve got hardcopies of things from 6th, 7th, 8th grade—I wrote all these little rants in class instead of paying attention (which explains a lot about my grades). I was writing for myself, mostly, but I was also writing for whoever would read it in the future. I’d cast different people, like maybe I died in an accident and my family was reading, and they’d say, “Oh, gosh, she was so amazing.” Or I got famous and my writing was found, and they’d say, “Oh, gosh, she is so amazing.”
I’ve got hundreds of poems saved digitally, with revisions—in Granddaughter of Dust and in all my manuscripts, my writing journey is clear; even though I’ve reworked certain pieces, the bones are still there, showing where I started.
I wrote a lot. It was all horrible, but I was young; I didn’t know any better. I wrote rants about the state of the world, which I still write, actually, couched in the mask of ‘fiction’ now. And I wrote plans for the future, how to fix it. I also wrote so many different fantasy stories. Most of them were never finished, except for a screenplay I wrote in 11th grade instead of paying attention in Chemistry. And then I wrote a vampire novella. I haven’t looked at either of those since I graduated high school.
I guess I was writing because I wanted to be remembered, but I also wanted to figure out what I wanted.
So why do I write now?
I found this post on on tumblr where some person was talking about how you should write for yourself, that the audience is of no importance at all. And that’s wonderful; if you can write just for yourself, go ahead and do it. I write, I think, mainly because I have a story to tell and I want to tell it. I have to get it out. But if no one reads it, if no one tells you, “Dude, you made me cry like a baby,” or “Wow, this line, it encapsulates everything I have ever thought,”—write for yourself, first and foremost. That’s the only way I think you can really start. Because the world is mean and even if people love your work, there is still going to be someone who just wants to tear you down for whatever reason. Sometimes I’ll get this one comment that just shatters me and I don’t write for months. And those months hurt. But for every troll, there is a group of cheerleaders.
So you have to write for yourself. Because if you don’t believe it, if you don’t feel it, no one else is going to care. (Anne Lamott said this better in Bird by Bird.)
You write for immortality because once it’s out there, on the internet especially, it’s not going anywhere. And you write to understand yourself, the world.
Start writing for yourself, but then you have to know who else you’re writing for. Because otherwise you might just burn yourself out. If you don’t have someone telling you, “Hot damn, this is the best thing since chocolate chips were put into cookies,” or someone asking, “I didn’t understand this, could you maybe dig a little deeper?” then you might never find that story that defines who you are and how you see the world.
I write because I want to be remembered and it’s the only way I will be, the only way I’ll leave a mark on the world. And I write because nothing else feels the way a completed poem does, with all the perfect words in place. I write like my life depends on it. Because I love it. Because I have a voice, and I want someone, somewhere, to hear it. Because I’m alive.
— Laura Williams
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Laura Williams cannot remember a time she did not love to read; her passion for writing came later, but poetry has been her life-long love. The younger middle child of four, she has been blessed with a large, close-knit family. She is in the process of earning her doctorate in education, focusing on adult literacy, at Louisiana State University and lives with two mischievous cats.
Purchase Granddaughter of Dust: