Why I Write . . .

In some of my books about writing I quote well-known writers on why they write. For example, in The Lively Muse Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers, I quote Carlos Fuentes:

“One wants to tell a story like Scheherazade, in order not to die. It’s one of the oldest urges of mankind It’s a way of stalling death.”

And this one from Joan Didion:
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

For every writer of reputation and acclaim, there are tens of thousands more of us, each with our own compelling and often irrational reasons for why we write. There’s even a National Day on Writing that offers a “Why I Write” feature.

I’m not sure any of us, except maybe those who make a living at it, can explain in rational terms why we write. Why do painters paint, why do dancers dance, and why do we want to go to the moon? I’ve certainly never been able to “explain” this need of mine to put down in words on a page, my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fantasies. The stories that want to be told and find their voice in the written language. Images that won’t leave me alone until I put language to them. Puzzles to solve, mysteries to explore, questions to answer, though not always satisfactorily. I write to discover what I care about and what matters to me. I love the play of language, the design of letters, the flow of the pen against the page.

“I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery.” – Jane Hirschfield

One of my favorite “Why I write” statements is in the form of what I want to call a prose poem. It’s by Terry Tempest Williams, and I first came upon it in Writing Creative Nonfiction, a thick, rich book edited by Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, subtitled Instruction and insights from the teachers of the Associated Writing Programs. I often use the Williams piece in my classes and workshops; it’s best read aloud. I won’t reproduce the entire essay here, but you can find it several places online, including here.

These are just a few lines:
“ … I write as an act of faith. I write as an act of slowness. I write to record what I love in the face of loss. I write because it makes me less fearful of death. I write as an exercise in pure joy. …”

Whatever our reasons, or excuses, or explanations, or responses—let’s just keep doing it. OK?

Why do you write?

15 thoughts on “Why I Write . . .

  1. I am enjoying all of your responses about why we write.
    I agree with all of them…In addition, I feel I write to share my feelings with others and not feel alone in this vast universe.
    Arlene Kosakoff

  2. I write because I love words and I love the way it makes me feel, I’m writing my life story now, to try to understand how I ended up where I am and who I am. I am writing this to find peace, to be able to except my past and let go of it, to learn to let go of the the grief and the loss. Also to remember the laughter and to feel that joy again.

    • Thank you for writing, Annie. I’m writing about my life now, too. First time I’ve written memoir and I am finding out how my experiences affected who I am now. I hope you do find the peace you are searching for, and to feel that joy again.

      • Good luck with writing your life story, for myself it seems more difficult than I expected.

      • I have committed to a page a day, sometimes two, content and emotion could be better on some days. Thanks for your support Annie

  3. I write in order to shine a light on my world in all its rich abundance and diversity. And in this process of engagement, this attendance of mindfulness, I grow, I’m enlarged as an individual.

    Writing, when mindfully engaged, is a way of listening to ourselves and the world that surrounds us.

    Writing is a…….vocation, a ministry, a life well spent.

    Writing is ……therapy, meditation, healing – an integrative
    journey to wholeness.

    • Thank you for writing, Michael. Your words are inspiring, beautiful. “A life well spent.” I couldn’t agree more.

  4. I write because when I do, I discover places, characters, thoughts, emotions and imaginings within myself and beyond myself. That alone is fulfilling and yet there is more. There is a spiritual uplifting of understanding and knowingness of oneself, others and an expanding opening to the universe.

    • Thanks, TC for posting a comment. I really connect with what you say, about writing being spiritually uplifting. It is for me, too, when I get my ego out of the way and just let the creativity come through me. “Beyond myself,” as you say.

  5. I write to follow the path of lifeblood across the ages.

    When I don’t write I’m antsy, bored, restless, constantly craving the kinesthetic comfort of such as chocolate, cookies, and other anodyne. I drive myself insane and put other people in the same frame of mind with phonecalls and emails. I storm heaven and ask for a project instead of just putting pen to page and letting that flow happen.

    Pen to page. Yes. Pens are motorized now. They have these teeny tiny little micronibs that want to rip across the page and render my words illegible.

    I write because that is where I am sanest, safest, and less of a fury.


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