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?