I thought a lot about writing today. I work at a bookstore, so it may not come as much of a surprise. But the truth is that I've thought about it a little more today than I do most days.
I've always been a writer. In various forms, and for various reasons (some embarrassing), I've always been a words-down-on-paper sort of person. Tonight, out to dinner with my family, we were getting nostalgic about old-school computer games for MS-DOS, and I thought about the ancient computer that used to sit in the corner of my 6th grade classroom that I used to spend free time on crossing the Snake River or fixing a broken wagon axle en route to the Willamette Valley. But I also wrote stories, and even though I don't have a copy of what I wrote at the time, I remember writing very in-depth about something happening in the wilderness of Alaska. I was taken in by it, whatever it was, and it absorbed me fully until the bell rang and it was time to resume math or social studies or whatever it was. Nothing compared to losing myself in an alternate world in which I controlled absolutely everything that happened.
Just shortly after that, I became rabidly obsessed with the band Hanson (cue laughter; I was 13, come on!) and I used to write hundreds (hundreds.) of pages of what I later learned was known as "fan-fic." There were entire web domains devoted to hosting the stuff. I even had a couple stories online (and fans, what!). Of course they were wish-fulfillment stories, mostly plotless, starring myself, but when I look back on it now, knowing they were probably terrible (I'm not sure any of them exist anymore), the thing I like most is that I was writing. Didn't matter what about; I was planning chapters and outlining "plot," building characters and describing settings. I mean, I was big into it. I permanently calloused the middle finger of the right hand, I wrote so-so-so much. Secret notebooks, you know, nothing that could be easily accessed on a computer hard drive or anything! Duh!
In high school, the writing tapered off, the visual arts taking up most of my creative attention. And in college this also continued, but I never totally stopped writing. Dozens of unfinished plot outlines, chapters, and stories remain on my hard drive or on CD backups and I've never shown anyone a word of it.
The last several months have provided a funny, unexpected opportunity to write and to share it with people -- something I would have cringed at the thought of.
A couple of friends have lovely old black typewriters at their houses, which tend to become a focal point at some point during occasional late-evening get-togethers. Poetry, letters, stories, and plain old nonsense are spewed from these machines, a tiny bit of which I've kept, and much more of which has fallen into other hands or into the ether. I would have expected to be anxious that my gut feelings, my sometimes drunken sentiments are in other people's hands -- things that I have written when my guard was completely down. Some might call it "stream-of-consciousness," but what it really is, is scary. And a typewriter doesn't have a delete key!
Typewriters give way to notebooks and napkins; even I carry around a Moleskine with me at all times in case an idea strikes. But I'm coming to terms with the fact that writing, although it may serve a cathartic purpose for me, is truly enjoyed when shared.
My own lone Smith-Corona Skyriter, sleek and utilitarian and running very low on ink has produced some interesting pieces; things I'm not even embarrassed about. Writing is actually visceral. If it's too intellectual, it loses meaning and depth. I'm learning to embrace the writing that happens naturally, with the flow of my thoughts and the keys of the typewriter, my notebook keyboard, or my nearly-broken Moleskine. Whatever works, just keep writing and writing and writing. Maybe I'll never get published, but if ideas aren't released onto paper, they are in danger of disappearing, as if they had never been thought up at all.