Recently I spoke to a group of teenagers about writing, and a young lady asked me, “Why do you write?”
“I want to record all the memorable experiences I’ve ever had in my life, both good and bad,” was my reply.
Yes, I want to record all the experiences of a writer who was born a decade before the halfway point of the 20th century and is still going strong in the first quarter of the 21st century.
Another reason why I write is that I want to be remembered like Tolstoy, Albert Camus, Joyce Carol Oates and thousands of other writers who are remembered. Writers live forever. I, too, want to live forever. That’s why I originally chose to be a writer. And then, years later, I chose to publish my own books, which made me produce more books than I ever imagined. Because of my output, I wouldn’t trade my life with any other writer, living or dead.
And so it came to pass on August 20, 1969, the day I turned 29, that I started writing my first novel, A Class of Leaders, about a history teacher in an all black ghetto high school who does away with the conventional teaching methods of assignments, tests and grades and allows his students to teach instead. I never wrote a book or a complete story before that day. I never took a class in writing and had no idea what was involved in the craft. If I took a class today I’d probably fail it. I don’t like to be told that there are certain rules and that you have to follow them—if that’s what a teacher in a writing class conveys. Oh, over the years I’ve learned that it’s better to show rather than tell and that the protagonist in a story or novel must change, but I rarely even follow those two rules. That’s why I became a writer, so I didn’t have to follow anyone’s rules except my own.
And so it goes, just like a plane leaving the ground, soaring higher and higher and getting the traveler from one place to another. That’s what I want to do, get from one place to another in my writing without hesitating or stopping for this or that distraction, but to move forward at all times and not look back, Jack, until it’s time to start revising.
On the other hand, all I do in my writing is look back on my life and try to make it as meaningful as possible.