A Reason To Write

“A novel is only a place of storage – of all the meaningful things that a novelist isn’t able to use in his life.” ~John Irving

I came across this quote this week near the end of The World According to Garp, a truly amazing John Irving novel that I somehow didn’t read in high school.  I think my relationship with my musicals is largely the same.  There are lots of reasons to write, but among the primary ones for me is that there are all of these thoughts and hopes and dreams I have that don’t fit neatly into my own real world.  To be able to PUT them all somewhere, into a song or a musical or a play, makes them somehow not a waste, somehow more concrete than a daydream, more fulfilling than mere hopes or wants.  Useful.  Tangible.  Real.

The World According to Garp - first edition cover.I have sometimes joked to friends that I put all of the most interesting parts of myself into my shows, and consequently that there isn’t much very exciting left over for the “real” me.  I think a lot of writers feel at least a little bit this way.  The power to construct life exactly as you wish it to be underlies a lot of the creative impulse.  We may not always be able to have the perfect comeback in a bad situation, but if we want her to, our hero always can.  We don’t have control over whether people get what they deserve in our lives, either for good or for ill, but we do, if we want them to, in our stories.  And we can’t always make the pieces of our personalities or our lives fit together in a coherent way, but the extra bits get collected in the work – stored, if you will.  Sometimes they’re the BEST bits.

But there’s one more interesting insight packed into that little Irving quote about art.  Not only do our extra “meaningful things” collect there, but by thinking of art as a place of storage, it also becomes a place from which things can be removed and used later.  And maybe this is actually the case.  Those things that we can’t find a way to make work right now, those bits of dreams and fragments of ideas and suppressed desires that we know are important and we cram into our novels and plays and poems, maybe someday we’ll be in a position to use them in our real lives.  When that day comes, we’ll be glad we took care of them, and that we know exactly where we put them.

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