What’s apt and ironic about this book is that it took me almost ten years to get it published.
Further disclosure: without a literary agent, I knew I had to send BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO to every small and literary press I could locate.
I learned then that writing that’s about writing can be harder to place than other kinds. Perhaps it seems too solipsistic or redundant. And yet the squirmy fact remains: more and more space—virtual, aural, paper—is filled by writing that’s about writing.
The nation’s larded with creative writing programs whose teachers talk and write and assign books about writing all the time. On Facebook and other social media, we’re avalanched by writerly news and reflection.
Why? Because it gives relief.
Writing’s a stunningly lonely gig that—paradoxically—aims for connection. “Hitting people’s hearts,” is how Tim O’Brien put it.
But connection, as writers and readers know, occurs privately, silently, often at great distances in time and space from the work’s originator.
So we write, in the present, about how it feels to write. About what the act teaches us. About anguish, stuckness, the jackpot, the abyss. Surprises, insults, windfalls. Conversely, we read such writing for guidance, inspiration, and to compare.
We also battle the sense of a creeping inversion: that the actual writing products—stories, novels, memoirs—may stand in danger of becoming eclipsed by their by-products: the guidance, meditation, craft and gossip books.
One hopes not. But the impulse to write about writing (and the appetite for reading it) feels inextinguishable. It consoles us like little else to think with pen or keyboard about what’s happened to us; to sift that experience for patterns and meaning. If rejection has ground us to paste, if envy has snaked poison through our veins, if we’re so broke we’re living on yogurt—or if we’re floating in a fugue state, or on fire with the joy and grace of getting it right—what’s more logical and satisfying than to shape these passionate discoveries into a series of written pieces?
Right. And when these books and pieces succeed, they give two-way nourishment, reassurance, and support: to readers, and to writers. Think how little else provides such direct first aid, so quickly!
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Life, just won the Silver ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.