Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why write?

Sometimes, it's possible for writers to forget why we spend hours and days and weeks staring at words on the page or screen, trying to polish and perfect them. My volunteer job, however, has given me ample reminders on just why we write.

It's a Thursday morning, and I'm in the library reading to a group of 1st and 2nd graders. They've gone from being slightly antsy to totally still -- not to mention amazed, incredulous, worried, and ultimately relieved -- as they hang on every word of Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the story of Philippe Petit's remarkable tightrope walk at the World Trade Center in New York. It is almost as if we're all with Philippe, being hit by the same gusts of wind and feeling the same freedom as he does so high up in the air alone on his wire.

This is why we write. We want to transport, amuse, inform, or plain old MOVE people in that same all encompassing way. This is why we write.

Another library morning, and a group of kindergarteners are screaming at Mo Willem's Pigeon as we gleefully enjoy Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Sometimes libraries are meant to be quiet, but not right now, not with this book. 20 kids have lost all inhibitions and are totally immersed in the book's simple conflict... but one so perfectly created for maximum impact.

This is why we write. We want to give our readers a character, a story, an idea or SOMETHING that gets them to react with their whole body and mind. This is why we write.

It turns out that my new kin have a long history of understanding the importance of books, as this story about San Diego librarian Clara Breed illustrates (a story I initially found on the excellent Read Roger blog). If ever writers needed a reminder about why we write, this story should certainly serve that purpose.

Inspiration comes to all of us in different ways, but if you are one who's writing for children, I strongly urge you to do what I get to do a few times a week now: find a great book and read it aloud to a group of kids. As you watch their faces... sense their body language... feel their emotions while you read, you will remember vividly exactly why you write.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My third graders loved "Two Towers" last year. And every kid I know love "The Pigeon" books.