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Arthur Plotnik answers the big question: Why Write?

Day 3 in Down the Writer’s Path’s series with Arthur Plotnik. This segment is part of an interview with Arthur Plotnik, author of the newly released, Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style by Briget Ganske, Spring 2006 and posted with their permission.

Why do you write? Or, why do you feel compelled to write?

I ask myself these questions when the going is bad. Then the answer is, “Because I’m so invested in it, because I write better than I play piano or golf, and—to paraphrase Al Franken—gosh darn it, people like my stuff .” When it’s going well I don’t ponder the why of it, because the answer is self-evident: It feels wonderful.

Should others write? Yes, if only to find the words that encapsulate and give shape to experience. Writing can be transformative–as who doesn’t know? It can make the larval you into the chrysalis you, and maybe even you the big butterfly. One can write to engage and stimulate audiences, too; it’s what most of us scribblers do. But a writer must never tie self-esteem to the crapshoot of fame or even publication. The writing gives you the gift, says E. L. Doctorow. If you don’t feel that (eventually), don’t write.

At what point in your life did you become interested in writing?

Third grade. The town paper (White Plains, N.Y.) ran a weekly “Junior Page,” and something I wrote for class made it there. Once I beheld that byline and felt the wonder of expression-made-tangible, the Writing Devil had my soul. I never stopped: School publications, freelance fiction, newspaper reporting, pulp novels; government, trade, and professional writing; magazine columns, nonfiction books, unpublished masterworks; and some low-commitment poetry and blogging.

At what point did you become interested in writing about writing?

As a mentoring editor. I fell into several editorships early on—school literary magazines, specialized newsletters and magazines—with staffers and writers asking for advice. I offered more than I knew before I came to know a few things. (Sorry, those of you I misled!)

My first published advice was to editors in The Elements of Editing, but much of that advice appealed to writers—for example, the criteria for judging a manuscript, or the relationship between editor and writer. When that book hit the jackpot—paired with The Elements of Style by the Book-of-the-Month Club—I fancied myself an author with a knack for explaining what I know. And what else did I know but writing? Besides, it’s gratifying to help writers; some of them thank you in the most expressive ways.

Come back tomorrow when Plotnik tackles “living the writer’s life.” Need a great book on language, grammar, and style? Or maybe you’d like a healthy dose of grammar-inspiration? Order a copy of Spunk & Bite and see for yourself why so many are praising Plotnik’s latest work. You might also want to check out Art’s website, Spunky’s Blogrr, and, Plotnik’s official bio. If you haven’t already, read my review of The Elements of Authorship then return for more soundbites from the Great Plotnik!

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