Why I Write
October 31, 2022 § 12 Comments
By Diane Forman
One of my favorite prompts, which I give my students near the end of a six or eight-week writing workshop, is a section of Terry Tempest Williams’ beautiful essay entitled “Why I Write.” I love Williams’ words: “I write to discover…to honor beauty…I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams.” My writing group participants disclose similar revelations: they write to remember, to calm themselves, to put into words what they can’t say aloud.
As a lifelong journaler—I write daily in an online journal, but also have 20 hard-bound diaries comprised of my youthful longing and musings, sealed in a box with a warning note to my kids about its contents—I know the power of writing to truth, writing to honesty. Plus I just love words.
When I was older, I began participating in writing workshops. Having thoughts that were previously hidden in a journal witnessed in a group is incredibly powerful. It’s one of the reasons I teach. But a writing group is usually small. And safe.
The reasons I write didn’t change dramatically once I began publishing my work for a larger audience. I still wrote to make peace with things I couldn’t control, to find answers to broader questions. Telling my stories has helped me make sense of my experiences, but I discovered that they often helped my readers make sense of theirs. Although writing is primarily a solitary pursuit, publishing has invited connection with other people.
Amazing things have happened since I began publishing creative nonfiction and personal essays. I wrote a story about finding my mother’s childhood home near Berlin, the one that my grandparents hurriedly and secretly sold to a kind British woman and her husband, before being forced to flee in 1939. This couple’s sons, who now live in England and Ireland, read my piece and learned that the house had been destroyed, then contacted me. That home in Berlin had been especially meaningful and significant to my family, as well as to theirs. Connection.
I wrote about my internal questions (i.e., what would my grandparents think?) and the complicated process of obtaining German citizenship. Subsequently, several people contacted me about their own German relatives who’d had citizenship revoked during the war. Recently, I spent an hour on Zoom with a woman who read my piece and had processed similar haunting questions before applying for German citizenship. She described an intense emotional reaction when handed her naturalization certificate at the German consulate in Boston. I remember also tearing up when standing in exactly the same spot. Connection.
Because of these essays, I have met and been invited into groups of other “2Gs” (children of survivors, second generation after the Holocaust). We share a deep understanding of ancestral trauma because we’ve all lived it. Before I began publishing stories about my German relatives and our family history, I had neither heard of nor known any other 2Gs. These associations are important to me.
I’ve written about other difficult topics too, such as anxiety and disordered eating, child estrangement, hoarding and aging (oh, and some lighter pieces too—it’s not all doom and gloom!). Not all responses to my pieces have been positive; sometimes family members or readers have delivered criticism, forcing me to question my tolerance for personal exposure. Yet even when someone doesn’t like what I say, my words have opened communication, which encourages connection. Some messages from readers, both positive and negative, have led to longer email exchanges or phone calls. Some strangers have become friends. These relationships are important, both as a writer and as a human.
So, while I still write for understanding, for truth, for clarification, to tell a story, to help people, to help myself and even for fun—I also write for communication, for discussion, for connection. In a world that can feel fragmented and lonely, I write to bring myself closer to others.
Diane Forman has published in AARP The Ethel, Boston Globe Connections, HuffPost, WBUR Cognoscenti, Brevity Blog and elsewhere. She was a 2022 finalist for the Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Nonfiction. Diane lives, writes, and teaches north of Boston. See more at her website or on Twitter.