Forum / Why choose writing?

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 14, 02:35pm

    When all the infinite choices lay before us on a table of possibilities, why would anyone choose to be a writer?

    I know that the question's on everyone's profile here, but here's a chance to explain yourself without the compulsion of 'building your brand' or trying to be clever. The question's asked in all sincerity, so here's an opportunity to answer in kind.

    I'm of the opinion that the Forum's under-utilized in that respect, as a forum for ideas and opinions, so I ask stupid questions from time to time. The results, answers... the responses are often surprising... as they should be in a forum for writers.

    Why do you write?

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    May 14, 03:06pm

    As a "writer/editor" (see: "Occupation") I write "because I have to," silly...

    (sits down with back of hand held to forehead, eyes closed, contemplating the endlessly repeatable possibilities of wistful emptiness, longing and regret...)

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 14, 03:49pm

    I really miss Ernie Kovacs, but I wouldn't want to be him... him being dead and all.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    May 14, 04:03pm

    Seriously, I think the old story about the Zen master who tells his students to imagine a young man who loves a certain girl, and then asks them to tell him why this is so.

    One says because the girl is rich, thereby assuring the young man's future.

    Another says because she is lovely and innocent.

    Another says because she is lovely and
    *not* innocent.

    And so on...

    And of course the Master smacks them all on the head with his staff and says:

    "He loves her because he loves her! There is no why!"

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 14, 04:10pm

    Ultimately, "...because he loves her..." sounds like a very good "why" to me. Besides, zen masters take themselves much too seriously.

    Which reminds me of the old Zenny Youngman gag:

    "How do you tell the difference between a zen master and a silly, irascible old man with a cane?"



    "You can't."


  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    May 14, 05:31pm

    Ultimately, "...because he loves her..." sounds like a very good "why" to me.

    (make that: "There is no other-why!")

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 14, 06:34pm

    Sounds more like an edict than a perspective, but at least you bothered to write.

    Thank you kindly, Mr. Dennison.

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    Marcus Speh
    May 14, 08:22pm

    Mr Finnegan Flawnt answered this a long time ago:

    It's late here now and I've been teaching all day...will return tomorrow.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 14, 09:49pm

    Eloquent answer, Marcus. Thank you.

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    Lynn Beighley
    May 15, 02:30am

    I write because of that first time I brought home a story I wrote at school, my mother made a huge fuss over it. I write because I slipped an anonymous note in a boy's locker once, and, while he never knew it was me, I could tell he was excited about it. I write because I wrote up some instructions on how to do something on a computer for a frustrated friend, and she suddenly understood a new thing that she thought was beyond her understanding.

    I write to reach you.

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    Carol Reid
    May 15, 04:44am

    I like the sound certain words make when they bump up against each other. I like capturing experience in words. Once in a while I get it right and I know I get it right because I make some people see, feel and hear the same things I saw, felt and heard. I write because arrrangements of words sometimes make me breathless in the same way music does. I write because on those rare occasion when I succeed I feel more real than in almost any other life experience. I write because of what I feel in other people's words and I want to do that too. Words make me fall apart and words put me back together. It all began with the books on my father's bookshelf and the way he loved those books.It will probably end in much the same way.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 15, 01:04pm

    Thank you, Lynn, Carol. Wonderful reasons all.

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    Gary Hardaway
    May 15, 01:49pm

    I write because I was never any good at sports
    and because she was so beautiful that fine day in April, 1967.

    I write because the world terrifies me and I have to shape a little piece of it for myself.

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    Ann Bogle
    May 15, 04:17pm

    I write because I'm lazy. I like to sit around -- especially upright at my desk -- and do math on the sly. Yes, I write to create the pressure I like to do math.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 15, 04:25pm

    Thank you, Gary, Ann. Unusual reasons all.

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    MaryAnne Kolton
    May 15, 07:28pm

    I write because you told me to. . .

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    May 15, 11:48pm

    I am liking the "there is no why." It is not the physical process of sitting behind the keys and banging away that makes a story. It is the life one lives based on the thoughts one thinks followed by some sideways form of cognitive blood-letting. I don't write "because I have to," but I know that I am different because of it and all of what must go into, under,above,beside, before, and after giving birth to another story. And I am different every time. I am changed every time; affected by this ritual that has sunken roots into the soil of everything I experience. The older I get, the greater the impact felt, physically and emotionally. It is soup. It is bain. I do not know why I keep writing. While I may be changed as a by-product of the process, I cannot say with all certaintly wether I am better or worse because of it. Uhm...

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 16, 12:19am

    MaryAnne? Aren't you supposed to be writing?

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 16, 12:25am

    Michael, I hear you. I don't 'have to be writing' either. I mean, I could always take up urban guerilla warfare as a mode of expression, but as a writer with total creative control over the cinematic content in me brain, I can always choose who is going to win... in the end.

    To be serious... I like what you say about ritual... going to give that some thought.

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    Joani Reese
    May 16, 12:36am

    I'm not a real writer. Writing was never a conscious choice for me, but looking back on my life, I can't remember more than a year or two when I didn't write. I think I might have just withered away had I not had access to this art through the luck of a good education and a psychological calling.

    I was always a reader, from my first Nancy Drew mysteries at about eight when I'd hide beneath the covers with a forbidden flashlight and read far into a school night, to my insatiable need to read every night before going to sleep today, I think I've picked up a writerly trick or two, but writing has always been a form of catharsis for me, and sometimes the muse moved me to put words on a page and sometimes she remained silent and aloof--the bitch.

    When I experience the urge to write, it becomes as important to me as eating and drinking. It is sustenance, and I can't imagine my life without it, though it does irritate me frequently by creating inaccessible days or even months in which nothing seems good enough or clever enough or interesting enough to write about, but when the words are flying in my head and my fingers are playing the computer keys like a concert pianist, there is no better high in the world.

    Real writers, to me, write every day, whether they feel like it or not. They get right in there and type crap if they have to in order to reach down and pull out something that's real. Real writers work fifty hour a week jobs and still have the energy to pursue their muse during their free time. I don't. I can't make myself do that, so I suppose that makes me a dilettante in the writing world.

    One thing I do know is that writing is both an art and a craft that I can't imagine living the rest of my life without pursuing, even if it does enthuse me only on occasion. I did not choose to write, ever. Writing chose me. Those of you out there who are real writers, I tip my hat in your direction.

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    Javy Gwaltney
    May 16, 11:05am

    I write because I feel strange if I don't, and I love storytelling. I suppose by strange I mean the kind of dirty sensation one has when they haven't brushed their teeth or put on their deodorant or they keep forgetting to send off a bill payment that's on their desk. Just that nagging sensation that it needs to get done: a thousand words a day. That's not a lot for a good number of other writers, but that usually placates me. Sometimes it doesn't. It just depends on what I'm working on. If it's the novel-in-progress, I rather it be closer to 1,500, but it's usually somewhere around 1,000. But those 1,000 words--even if they're complete rubbish--needs to happen or my day is off-kilter, which is why I'm ideally a morning writer.

    I don't write because I like the actual act of writing itself. To me, it's tedious work that I plod through and feel as though I'm getting nowhere, but when I DO finish the work (whatever it is) and I take a step back, satisfied with it at long last, that's a great feeling. Probably the greatest feeling I've ever known.

    Beyond that, I just want to be a great storyteller. I've always had a reverence for someone who can tell a story, no matter the format.

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    Sam Rasnake
    May 16, 11:49am

    I don't really know. Just foolish enough I guess.

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    Nicolette Wong
    May 16, 12:01pm

    For me it's never been a choice. It's what I've been doing since I was a small kid with a book in her hands.

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    James Claffey
    May 16, 02:19pm

    I'm with Nicolette on this one. There's really no option but to write. A need to put the words on the page drives the creative engine, the force of shaping words to create stories that resonate and speak to an honest emotion at some level. The way it happens varies for me, sometimes it's three pages a day in the notebook, and sometimes it's a quick-write on the computer. Either way, writing every day, like flossing, or drinking water, is part of the ritual.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 16, 02:27pm

    This thread has taken a lovely turn. So much to read and appreciate. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

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    Tina Barry
    May 16, 02:31pm

    I write because I need to make pictures and that's the form it takes.

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    Misti Rainwater-Lites
    May 16, 03:40pm

    It all goes back to my childhood. When I was in kindergarten I started carrying around a portable tape recorder. I sang songs that I knew and made up new songs. I made up skits. In one skit I played two roles. I was a matter of fact man interviewing a moody bumblebee and I was the moody bumblebee. "Hello, Mister Bumblebee! How are you doing today?" "Bzzzz! I do just fine! I'm just flying around here stinging people and I'm about to sting YOU!" Then the bee attacks the man and there are screams and sound effects. In a much sadder segment I was sounding out simple words, doing my homework. You could hear my mom and grandmother discussing life and death matters in the mom was going through hell because my alcoholic father was running around on her while she was stuck out in the country with three kids. You can hear me ask my mother how to spell a word and she spells the word for me in an angry voice then tells me to go away so she can talk to my grandmother. When I was an adult I found that tape in my grandmother's guest bedroom. I played it for my mom and she got upset. I wish I still had that tape but it mysteriously disappeared.

    I write because I didn't have an audience when I needed one most.

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    James Claffey
    May 16, 09:19pm

    this is wonderful misti!

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    Gessy Alvarez
    May 17, 12:49am

    I write because it pisses people off.

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    Gessy Alvarez
    May 17, 12:51am

    Honestly, people are pissed off at me. They just hate that I write. It's quite invigorating to draw such a response from people.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    May 17, 01:43am

    Everyone's responses--wow, so different, so inspiring.

    I don't know why I write. Most of my life I have not written, at least not writing as I do now, the writing of stories and poems and stuff in between. But about six years ago, a switch or something went off, this person materialized in my head and I had to tell his story. It was the oddest thing, and to be frank, the obsession, the mania of getting his story down scared me: I thought I was insane. After four months, the story finished, I had spewed some 180,000 words, and I have not looked back. I have written almost every day since then, though not as prolifically.

    There is a condition called hypergraphia: the compulsion to write. All sorts of things can trigger it: hormonal changes, stress, mental illness, drugs. I think that kick-started me into writing six years ago.

    Now I write because nothing gives me as much pleasure as creating something new and, I hope, beautiful or meaningful: a character, a metaphor, a description that gives pause, a scene that turns people minds in different directions.

    Writing is the one space that I am me. Peace...

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    Marcus Speh
    May 17, 08:05am

    Enjoying these responses, credit to Jim's excellent initiative.

    Here's another voice: from the "weekly highlight" of the Aotearoa Affair, a blog fest organized by fellow fictionauts Michelle Elvy and Dorothee Lang in the run up to the Frankfurt Bookfair 2012.

    It's a longer account of "why I write" by young German writer Christopher Kloeble during his stay in Iowa, I suppose. I added a comment at the end which sounds a tad harsh to me but I meant it:

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    Misti Rainwater-Lites
    May 17, 01:26pm

    Thanks, James!

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 17, 02:09pm

    Writing requires nothing but solitude and silence, time and a singular focus. It requires a marvelous set of tools... vocabulary, metaphor, conceptual style, cheaply acquired when you take the time to add to your collection and develop the ability to use them well.

    But when you know that your work will be read abroad, it then requires courage, confidence, reckless indifference to the opinions of friends and family, because when you write with honesty, whether you write poems, fiotion, or fact with opinion. Your silence will not save you if your work goes on beyond your consciousness in print... or in bytes and bit in computers around the world. When your writing is published, it is no longer merely the sum of your thoughts unexpressed, but is a product at large, a product connected to your name, a thing with a life of its own. But it's yours by default, inevitably your soul exposed, vulnerable, naked in the light of day. You are exposed to the judgment of strangers, yes, but also, and maybe more importantly, to parents, to lovers, to children, to friends, to all those people who have the ability to break your heart at will. That's courage, to expose yourself to the people you love. Not many can do it.

    In light of that truth, our reasons for writing are important and I love that this question has caught the interest of people here. I love to hear the differences, the reasons, the voices. Don't stop.

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    Judith A. Lawrence
    May 17, 03:22pm

    I write because the characters in my head and those I meet in my life demand to tell their story, in a poem, in prose, in a memoir, in a novel. They raise such a clatter, I have no choice. Some are much ado about nothing. Others are quite satisfying.

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    stephen hastings-king
    May 17, 04:07pm

    i like fidgeting over sentences.

    i like the idea of making conceptual toys. i like to play with them. i like the idea that other people might also like to play with them. but it's ok if they don't.

    i like that sentences are more concrete than sequences of piano sounds but because i like sequences of piano sounds in the ways in which i do, i like making sentences that do curious things.

    i like taking stories apart and not putting them back together correctly.

    i like the idea of waging a little war on ordinary perception using little stories like sticks that arrive in the spokes of a spinning wheel.

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    Ann Bogle
    May 17, 04:24pm

    SHK, I would click "like" -- Like! here.

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    Susan Tepper
    May 17, 05:49pm

    Gessy I have never hated a single thing you've written, in fact just the opposite. I'm sorry. I will now only hate what you write! hahaha!

    As for why I write? It beats suicide.

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    See ya
    May 18, 11:12am

    I'll take from Javy's comment:

    "I've always had a reverence for someone who can tell a story, no matter the format."

    Couldn't say it better than that.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 18, 09:34pm

    Thanks, everyone. Some stuff in here worth thinking about.

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    Susan Tepper
    May 19, 05:45pm

    Re what Linda posted: It's interesting that someone has "tagged" writers who write a lot with a name and physical reasons for the "condition." I find that, in itself, almost insane-- as oppossed to the prolific writer getting the mental illness tag! Do prolific painters and sculptors have a "disease tag" too, do you suppose? It's as if this culture has to tag everything. Nothing is allowed to stand on its own merit and just be "the way it is."
    I don't buy into the "hypergraphia" at all.
    Artists are artists and do what they do. Science should stay clear of us. Next thing you know they will have a drug to "clear up" hypergraphia. How delightful. Then we can all become accountants.

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    Ann Bogle
    May 19, 08:25pm

    Susan, on this point: I was startled to read in a book about bipolar disorder by Kay Jamison (I think) a footnote about U of Iowa's Creative Writing Program's 35-year participation in a study of mental illnesses in writers. I asked a few friends who had gone to Iowa whether they had known about the study. They all laughed when I asked: of course, they knew. They took it lightly, but I couldn't imagine being studied for mental illness while trying to write anything seriously. I also reflected, as you say, the other art fields must have and have had better lobbies? Rock n' roll? Abstract painting? Modern dance? Could better resist clinical imperatives directed at them from the outside? Surprised the writers didn't rise up about it.

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    Robert Vaughan
    May 19, 09:30pm

    I didn't choose writing; it chooses me.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    May 20, 12:35am

    Hmmm... Susan and Ann (and anyone else)... hypergraphia is a 'mental condition' that explains someone who writes a lot all of a sudden and with no known reason. It does not mean someone is mentally ill, nor does it explain the reason why most people write, including those like Joyce Carol Oates who can spin a major book nearly every year.

    It is not a 'condition' that requires 'treatment'.

    I write a lot. Other than a few bouts of illness, I have written every day for over 6 years. I am not hypergraphic. However, I do believe the reason I began writing at all was due to an episode of hypergraphia. It is the only reason I can explain my own journey into writing after not writing for close to 30 years. For my writing began not with a whimper, but with a bang, one that pretty much threw my entire life off kilter for 4 months.

    Jamieson has conducted a LOT of research on the role of mood disorders and temperament in highly creative people. It was in her book EXUBERANCE where I first stumbled over the term hypergraphia.

    By no means do I mean to imply writers are mentally ill, nor are prolific writers prone to hypergraphia. Though I sure would not mind a dose of hypergraphia these days. Peace...

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    May 20, 12:58am

    Thanks for the mention of "Exuberance," Linda. Found out Jamieson also wrote "TOuched with Fire," which I've been meaning to get for a long time.

    Ordered it!

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    May 20, 01:39am

    Touched With Fire is her best, and yes, it gets into the nitty-gritty of temperament, mood, and creativity. I'd love to hear your thoughts after you've read. Peace...

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    Ann Bogle
    May 20, 01:54am

    Hypergraphia is a term that has been used to discredit women writers as "scribblers." I agree with Linda that the real thing is a phenomenon not to be missed. I've had it in the past, though I don't have it at all now. I once filled a yellow legal pad with writing then wrote over it then wrote over it again -- the writing was in three layers. I could recall its meanings when I looked at it, but I hoped no one else could decipher it. I was terrified, based on a past experience, that I had no privacy in writing. That notebook is lost. Another time I filled blue books with disjointed scribble about the English canon. Then mailed it to myself. It was missing from my briefcase where I kept it unopened. Hypergraphia is seen as a disorder, unrelated to literary output. It's splitting a hair or leaf to argue it's not. I remain surprised when WRITERS are unconcerned that Iowa studied its writers (but not abstract painters or modern dancers or rock n' roll musicians) for signs of mental illness. It suggests that writers passively comply when they might win prestige or are eager to be observed or that mental illness has verbal (not aural or visual or bodily) causes and effects.

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    John Riley
    May 20, 05:54pm

    I'm a dull person who writes for a dull reason. I like to type words and watch them roll across the screen. I like to hit the space key and the pinkie finger keys and and the back space key, especially the back space key. I'd rather back space than delete but I do use the delete key quite a bit. I keep my default font set at 9 pt. so I have to stare really hard at the screen. Much of my job involves writing or editing nonfiction and one of my weaknesses as an editor is I'm prone to rewrite instead of edit.

    As I said in my profile writing is the only thing that keeps me from staring at the clock. Even the little one on my monitor.

    In my heart I'm a hack.

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    John Riley
    May 20, 06:28pm

    I just saw that Kay Jamieson has been mentioned. I think I prefer "The Unquiet Mind," her memoir of how she's dealt with bi-polar illness. "Touched With Fire" makes a convincing argument linking creativity to mental illness, particularly bi-polar. The examples taken from Byron's life were fascinating. It's mostly anecdotal but pretty convincing I thought. I do wish she'd used more examples from other creative fields, such as science and mathematics.

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    Ann Bogle
    May 20, 08:34pm

    "One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." -- Bertrand Russell

    Thanks to KH for this quotation.

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    Ann Bogle
    May 20, 09:11pm

    By the way, her name is spelled Kay Redfield Jamison. Three of you went with the other spelling. I'm not saying that just to be right, but I worry about spreading misinformation.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    May 20, 09:25pm

    John, The Unquiet Mind is a seminal work for me--it helped me immensely when writing a bipolar character in my first novel.

    Thanks Ann. I have a character named Jamieson (same novel, but not bipolar!) and I always mispelled his name as Jamison. Peace...

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    James Lloyd Davis
    May 20, 10:25pm

    Ann, love that Bertrand Russel quote. Similar to a corollary and one of my favorite quotes, often attributed to Charles De Gaulle, sometimes to Churchill, and sometimes to a man who preceded them both to the grave, Elbert Hubbard:

    "The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without."

    Not sure about Hubbard, but I do believe Churchill and De Gaulle excluded themselves from that universal rule. De Gaulle for sure, since three days after his death, there were rumors of a comeback.

    Just kidding. Maybe. Does anyone miss De Gaulle?

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    Michelle Elvy
    May 20, 10:37pm

    I like Ann Bogle's comment about math. I am not a mathematician, but I find the precision and the infinite possibility in writing the things that drive me. There's something impossible in the possible... I wrote about this a while back, would like to offer it here again:

    Thanks all. I love this discussion. I cringe every time I hear someone say, "oh, you know, it just wrote itself" -- bullocks. That's as good as saying "God wrote it" in my book. God has written some God-awful books, if you think about it.

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