Over at the Digital Webbing forums, user Confundus started a discussion titled  "Why do you create?"  My inner smart ass begged me to post something fun. 

"There’s a lot less jail time involved than other things I could do with my spare time."

"A radioactive writer bit me as a kid."

"Legos.  Legos made me do it."

But I wanted to address the subject (semi)seriously.  Like a number of theories about psychological damage/trauma/twinkies suggest, it all began with my childhood.  A time of innocence and child-like wonder… for most of us who weren’t deathly shy and imbued with an overabundance of social awkwardness.  To compensate, I dove into reading books.  I treated books like most of the kids treat their iPods and headphones–as an excuse not to talk to anyone.

So, I read and read and read.  And my mom kept buying me books because 1) she was a big fan of reading and 2) it kept me from tearing appliances apart to figure out how they work.  It was win-win for her.  And I kept up this reading frenzy until an accident sent me over the edge and turned a consumer of stories into a creator.

That accident?  I left behind my books when I went away to camp for two weeks.  I meant to pack them but my thoughts were distant and distracted as I worried about this social environment my mom wanted to subject me to.  Maybe I could fake a major illness?  No good… my mom worked at the hospital.  Tamper with her car?  Still no good… she had my grandpa as a backup and if I messed with his car, I’d suffer a fate worse than camp.

No escape.

So, I went to camp and found myself surrounded by all these kids who wanted to talk and scream and play and establish some sort of alpha male dominance by sniffing each other’s farts.  And reached for my books only to find I had no protection from them at all.  I was the starship Enterprise entering battle without shields.  I was the Millenium Falcon without its hyperdrive.  And this forced me to face my fears and neuroses head on…

By hiding a lot.  I was adept at it.  So good in fact, it actually led to my "Ninja" nickname in my military days.  But the social tsunami of camp caught up to me at the classic ritual of bonding, the campfire.  When the campfire tales began, I felt at ease.  They weren’t books but they were stories.  I watched the storytellers as the tales unfolded and watched the campers.  Studied their reactions–how they could hang on every word for some stories and laugh throughout others.  How the campers suspended disbelief in certain situations and called ‘phony baloney’ when the story reached too far (or too fast).

The next day, I scrounged up paper and pencil and began crafting my own campfire tales.  I didn’t even bother to hide because the very idea of storytelling swept me away into the depths of my imagination.  An experience far more wondrous to me than getting lost in a good book.  I could pretend to be elsewhere… I could walk in other people’s shoes… I could make anything happen.  Words fell onto the page like a waterfall.  The experience was all-consuming and very surreal.

Then came the night when I’d take my turn telling a tale.  A tale about campers whose shadows disappeared overnight and something tragic would happen to them during the day.  Until a  few campers were left to face off against the source of the problem–a creature in the forest stealing the shadows.  Through trial and hardship, they managed to trap the beast…  only to find out he was only stealing the shadows to hide himself.  They soon learned he wasn’t the one causing the tragedies in the camp.  He was prey just like all of them… and the hunter was right behind them.  The end.

The story was a clumsy first attempt as fear and sweat poured out of me during the telling of it, but once I got into the flow of the tale, I had fun.  And it was amazing to see my peers reacting to the story.  I even saw a couple kids checking to make sure their shadows were still there.  I noticed the joy some kids felt when they realized a character was based off them and they were part of the story.  And the rising suspense and fear… I could sense it alive and well in the ebb and flow of the audience.

I gave them a new tale every night and I discovered something about the entire process…

It’s addictive.

And that’s why I create–why I’ve built stories ever since that experience at camp.  Yes, I really enjoy entertaining people and I love making people laugh, but I spent decades writing hundreds of stories no one has ever read (and I still write stories I never plan on publishing).  So, I have to be honest to myself.  That rush I get from creating stories–it whispers to me when I don’t get enough of it.  I think I even get the shakes when I don’t have an outlet for my storytelling for an extended period of time. 

I’m a storytelling junkie, and I will be one for the rest of my days whether I make my living at it or not.