Why Do We Write?
Why do I write? It’s a question I ask myself frequently, mostly because a lot of writers have a tendency to be occasionally introspective, and the only legitimate answer I can come up with is because I can. It’s how I identify myself—as a writer—and what I want to do. It never occurred to me that I would ever give up words in exchange for…well, anything. It just felt natural that I would write.
Not all writers feel like that. I speak to writers who enjoy the process, but are missing that… spark, that energy that they had when they first set out on that career—and one writer, who shall remain anonymous, once admitted to me that they never had that spark in the first place. They just saw it as a way to make money. They were a little successful, but not much; I wondered how successful they could have been if their heart had been in the words rather than the money.
Cormac McCarthy once said, rather cynically, “I don’t know why I started writing. I don’t know why anybody does it. Maybe they’re bored, or failures at something else.” Personally, I think that was rather harsh, but I can perhaps understand where he’s coming from if he’s met one of those people who believe that they’ve “got a book in me just waiting to be told.” Many people have, and they write them very well, but many people say that, I suspect, because they see writing as easy. You read those types of books and can weed them out, mentally, very quickly; usually within a page. I try not to plough on much beyond that; life’s too short to read a book where it’s quite clear that the writer’s heart just isn’t in it.
I’d argue that writing isn’t easy—of course it’s not, how could it possibly be easy? You’re creating a structure, a story, a world; whether you write novels or non-fiction, poetry or prose, you’re crafting a message that you’re giving to readers. If you’re hoping to make it interesting to readers, there’s a lot more to it than just popping some words down onto paper (preferably in a grammatically-correct order). You have to make the words come alive and engaged the reader. Not everyone can do that; we all know people who tell a story and butcher it somehow. Storytelling is a craft, and we should be proud of having a desire to be part of that tradition.
Passion isn’t everything, of course; we need an ability as well, and those two things—passion and ability—can be quite distinct. I’ve got a passion for music, but absolutely no musical talent of my own whatsoever; literally none. My singing voice is worse than a cat’s cry, and the less said about my ability to tinkle the ivories the better. So passion does not always equal ability—but ability can, sometimes, be taught. If someone has the desire to write, that desire can be guided, with the right teacher and the right guidance, into a reasonable talent.
Why do any of us write? We each have our own reasons, but does it occur to us to do anything else? Do we have that desire to manipulate our love of words to attract readers and share our experiences? I hope so.
I have a passion for writing, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. As Gloria Steinem said, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” What is your reason for writing? I hope it’s because it either feels like a vocation rather than just another job, or because you’ve got a great story to tell. Perhaps even both…after all, why not?
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© 2016 Matthew Munson
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.