Guest Post, Douglas Light: The Why

It was my year.

I had an edgy novel, an award-winning story collection, and movie with Hollywood stars coming out within a six month span.

Then things crumbled.

Three months before the novel’s release, the publisher went bankrupt; the book never saw publication. The story collection’s publisher failed to get the book onto stores; it instantly sank into oblivion. And despite a great cast, the film was met with derision; every major newspaper and magazine panned it.

All right, I told myself. Take the hit and move on. Start fresh. Sit down and write more. Create more. Keep going.

Then my laptop got destroyed, and with it twelve years of writing.

Back up everything is my mantra. In a single place should have been part of it.

Scraps of stories, pages of ideas, novels that had stalled out, and screenplays I’d lost interest in were in emails, on flash drives, or buried in a mess of print outs.

A death of a family member, divorce, and moving to a new place rank as the top three most stressful and depressing events in a person’s life.

Rereading ones own work has to rank number four.

maggienesciur-e1352918010523There’s good reason the major of writing never sees the light of day. Most of it’s painfully bad—or at least that’s true of mine. Culling through a decade-plus of writing was crushing. Like a brutal episode of This is Your Life, each page drove me back to the time I’d written it. The hopes and dreams I’d fostered then were eclipsed by the stark reality of now. So much time spent on failure work.

Why did I write in the first place? I’d lost the reason, the “why” of why I wrote.

So I stopped. For two years, I didn’t produce a single story.

The world continued.

Books were be published.  Movies got made. Hearts were broken then mended then broke again.

Life started.

Life ended.

I worked and lived and did all I’d always done—save writing.

Then my father was in a near-fatal car wreck.

I made my way to Memphis from New York City.

After the operation, after three days of grief and worry, after he finally came to and was semi-coherent, he took my hand and said, “So what have you been up to?”

I laughed. He’d endured the worst and was still caring enough to want to know about about me.

I told him of work, my girlfriend, of how things were in Harlem.

He said, “And your stories? Got any new ones?”

“Yeah,” I lied, “I do. A novel.” And then for over an hour, I told him story of a non-existent novel of mine.

Each time I paused in the telling of the tale I was making up on the spot, he’d say, “And then?”

And then.

And then.

I realized—or re-realized—my “why” for writing.

It was to understand both myself and the world and acknowledge failure and hope and loss and love.

It was to share.

It was connect.

It was to be human.

Douglas Light

Douglas Light is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer. His novel East Fifth Bliss received the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Award for Fiction. He co-wrote the screen adaptation (The Trouble with Bliss), which stars Michael C. Hall, Lucy Liu, and Peter Fonda. His story collection Girls in Trouble won the 2010 Grace Paley Prize and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2011. His writing won an O. Henry Prize and was included the Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology, as well as in Narrative, Guernica, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Failbetter.

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