Remember Why You Write
Last week I was reminded what it’s for. Why I do what I do, and why I write what I write.
A few years ago on a trip to Senegal, West Africa one glimpse outside a car window changed more than just my writing life; it clarified what I strive for. I know it sounds weighty, but it’s true. A young boy passing the time on a beach wall captured my attention for the briefest of seconds. And for reasons I still can’t fully understand, he stayed in my mind throughout the day. Then, hours later, when I came back to the same area and found him still there, I asked his permission to take another photograph (I’d already snapped a frantic one out the car window). Little did I know what an immense gift and responsibility he was about to give me. After the shutter closed and reopened, I peered at the captured image immediately struck by the face and stance of the person staring back at me. In the still shot, the boy’s strength screamed a challenge.
I dare you not to see me as I see myself.
|Snapshot from the car window
I remember smiling and thinking, this is what he wants me to capture. The way he wants to be seen by the world. The strength and determination I met in his eyes meant everything to me at that moment. It pulled at my heart. I felt like he had so much to say and I wasn’t sure if anyone had ever listened. I wanted him to know I heard and saw him. So the writer in me created a fictional world for this boy. I tried to tell myself a piece of his story.
|The moment that captured my heart
The process wasn’t an easy one, and my days and nights were often filled with doubt, uncertainty, and fear that I’d mess things up, or worse, that I’d never capture even a fraction of Senegal’s heartbeat. But my need to show the boy in my photograph (even if our paths never crossed again) that I saw him as a hero, a warrior, a defender, and a friend in his own adventure was far greater than my fear.
Kids like him, who rarely see themselves as the hero or heroine of stories, are my driving force. They deserve stories they can feel proud of and identify with—stories that mirror their own experiences and that are bursting with possibilities, featuring characters they can relate to and hopefully root for.
That is why I write.
And each time I got stuck, didn’t trust my ability to put one word in front of the next, worried no one would pick up my book or connect with the story, I thought of that boy. I pinned his image to the wall by my computer, saved it in my phone, and often stared at it to replenish my writing well.
And long after I’d written the final line, and turned my attention to promotion, I still tried to remember him after almost six years. Yet at a point last week, during a moment when I’d lost sight of “my why,” I received a letter from a young reader. After introducing himself the letter read, “Ms. Henderson I really loved your book!” And if his words had ended there they would have been enough, but he went on to describe what he liked about the story. Then I reached the close of the letter: “You know so much about Senegal it’s amazing. My own dad came from Senegal in a poor village so I really feel a connection to the book and I hope you write more books.” That line was fuel, tears, laughter, stars, sunshine, and glittering gold for me.
|The young reader who found his way to my book.
Writing has its ups and downs like anything else, but in that instance every discouraging moment before that letter arrived was magically forgotten, or turned inconsequential in my mind. The memory of why I write flooded back.
I share this with you, because on those days when you are plagued by frustration, or falter because of some level of rejection, please remember why you write. Why you love what you do. Why you need to create. Why all the sleepless nights, doubts, insecurities, and uncertainties are worth it. That is how you will get to the next day and the next.
And sometimes, maybe just sometimes, after all that you’ll be lucky enough to be reminded of what you’ve set out to do in the most wonderful ways.
This is why I write! Why do you?
Happy writing, my friends!
You can find her on Twitter @LeahsMark or at her website: leahhendersonbooks.com.
An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.
Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.
With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?