Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why do you Write?

Writing Wednesday

Why do I write? The simplest answer is that, like everyone else, I need to express myself. And of the many modes of self-expression, I prefer those that are more permanent (than, say, a dance) when I need to "sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world."*

Indeed, if we define writing as assembling sequences of symbols in some medium--signatures, lists, notes, messages, letters, email, presentations, reports, and so on--almost everyone writes. Like ants who live in an exquisitely complex world of chemical signals, we live in a constant stream of encoded symbols.

But very few of us call ourselves writers. That's because "writers" produce a particular kind of writing: work that is consumed by people in general instead of someone in particular.

There is a question everyone who has ever flirted with the fantasy of writing for general consumption must answer for themselves: "Why do you think you can and should write things that others will want to read?"

There are many answers, but after you peel away motives like vanity and fame that can't endure the grueling course that is the life of writing, the only sustainable answer is that you write because you must.

I write because that's the only way to appease, at least for a time, the voices in my head.

Why do you write?

* Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Stanza 52

Image: Simon Howden /