Why We Write

Posted on 13 December 2010

Comments and emails are still trickling in following the publication of my essay (“The Pressure of Young Promise“) in Poets & Writers and I wholeheartedly appreciate each and every one.

I can say that broadcasting your story of failure and rejection is worth it if it connects you to other writers who have gone through many of the same things and come out better/stronger for it.

I’d like to share a few blogs that mentioned my article and added to the conversation about promise, pressure, expectations, struggle, or why we write in the first place.

Mark Porter on Drugstore Books wrote about his trials as a young writer:

I completed my own first novel, Sensible Shoes, when I was twenty-three. I sent it off and waited for the bidding war. It never came. Rejection came. Then doubt. Then a gradual realisation that I just didn’t cut it. The problem for me was two-fold: the writing was not up to it and I was hopelessly out of my depth attempting to convey life experience at a stage in my own life when I had still to accrue any.

The Nighttime Novelist also mentioned my essay and acknowledged that it’s not always easy to remember why we write:

It’s very, very easy for writers to lose sight of why they write, to focus on such things as publication or the marketplace or making the right contacts or building a career and to become immobilized by the accompanying stress, fear, guilt, and other muse-killing emotions–all self-imposed–rather than remembering the joy of the work.

While having a conversation with her daughter about career options, Lisa Golden reflected on her own path to writing:

As we chatted, I had a tiny epiphany.  I’m writing now.  I wrote when I was a kid, a teen and a young adult.  It never occurred to me to major in creative writing or English while in school.  A career in writing never crossed my mind.  Even though I loved to write, I would have felt ridiculous calling myself a writer.

Finally, Lyn Hawks had this to say about the writing life:

You have to find the joy in each demand. You have to love starting a new project like revising my old novel as a prequel or taking on a brand-new novella for NaNoWriMo. You have to love binding up a manuscript with huge rubber bands for the Bakeless Prize or Dana Awards, and you have to love scouring Poets & Writers for the latest information on literary magazines. Give your all to every bit of the process.

Again, thanks to all the writers who reached out to me or who shared their own experiences.

What about you — why do you write?

Photo: soartsyithurts


10 responses to Why We Write

  • margosita says:

    I like seeing all the responses, as well. I’m glad you’re sharing them!

    Sometimes I feel like “Why do you write?” is the hardest question. There are a lot of stock, sort of cliche answers. “Because I have to” or “To understand the world” or “I love to.” There is the funny quip “Because I’m good at it.” Which are all true for me, as well, but also unsatisfying.

    Also, at times, they aren’t true. Sometimes I hate to write. It’s easy not to write, so I don’t really HAVE to. Often I feel confused, groping in the dark, understanding little. Certainly I’m not always good at it, either!

    I guess the answer for me is “I don’t know.” Which is fine. I don’t need to know. I like trying to understand why.

    • As part of some writing exercise, last year I wrote down all the reasons why I write…I think I filled 2-3 notebook pages front and back. Some of the reasons were really silly or strange or embarrassing, which is why I didn’t list them here. (Maybe some day….)

      Interestingly, some of the most common answers I have seen to this question include variations of “Because I’m good at it” and “It’s the only thing I feel I do well.”

      But yeah. I like trying to understand why, too.

  • amyg says:

    because numbers look like ancient hieroglyphics to me.

    because i could never balance chemical equations in high school.

    because there is very, very little that feels as good to me as writing that perfect paragraph feels.

    i have a quote taped to my keyboard at work from henri frederic amiel that reads, “work while you have the light. you are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.”

    writing is that talent that makes me feel responsible—not because i think my writing is the cat’s meow, but because it’s the only talent i have that has gotten me anywhere. (people don’t respond nearly as often after a i eat a whole bag of oreos)

  • Ha. Here’s an idea — make a video of yourself eating an entire bag of Oreos and put it on your blog (or send it to me for mine!) and I guarantee you’ll get some responses. :)

  • Cougel says:

    I don’t think I write because I’m good at it. Most of the time, I fear that I’m not good (enough) at it. I write because I don’t have a choice. I write because I can feel an expanding pressure inside me, like a balloon, and I have to excise it, out onto the page, to know what the hell it is. And then I have to write my way through it, before I know the answer. I think that that journey, that self-mystery I have to unravel, is what drives me. It’s like watching a movie that you’re in and you have to write your way to the end to know what happens…. or something.

  • Deb says:

    I’m finally getting the guts to put things down on paper that have been percolating in my head for years, decades maybe. Growing in my writing is really satisfying. I’m rediscovering Deb, even when I’m writing fiction.

  • Deb says:

    Oh, I almost forgot! Congratulations! PW… great!

  • lisahgolden says:

    I write mostly to process things.

    Thank you for linking me. My daughter is seriously considering a career in editing or publishing. The thing I like about this is that I have had little influence on the matter. She’s arrived at it on her own through the work she’s doing at school editing a literary class magazine.

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