Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Do You Write?

One of the girls in the teen writers club I've been mentoring sent out this e-mail:

          So, I have discovered why I write. I don't know about you guys, but one reason that I write is because I will never get to experience anything that my characters do. I'll never ride a dragon, or shoot at someone with lightning or anything... It's impossible to fly, and no one has super powers. That's one of the reasons I love the new superhero movies so much. Because on this earth, it's awesome to wish that you could visit completely new worlds and beat bad guys and soar in the sky, but no one will be able to. I write because I wish that I could experience all that. So I live through my characters.
          Another reason I write is to explore other people's points of view. We were born in our different places, and do many things with our lives. I like writing about people from different places and times. In my Afalzi story, Anessa lives in a world where people get their years sucked out regularly. It's funny, how much things like that affect and don't affect daily life... We weren't born in the right time to be able to dance at balls with eligible suitors or the right place to have an arranged marriage. So I, at least, find other people's experiences and time periods interesting.
           Finally, I write to travel. Sometimes I have to research for my stories, look up pictures and languages and such to be able to write the area of the world the characters are in. I'm probably never going to go to India, or the moon, or many other places. If I write my characters traveling, then I can experience at least some of it. Once again, going back to living through characters.

It made me think back to why I started writing. It was because I loved to read. I loved to read books with characters who got to experience things I might never be able to do, to feel their feelings, to see through their eyes. I loved to read for adventure, for excitement, for story. I loved to read to find characters I simply enjoyed hanging out with.

These days, in all my fuss about dialog punctuation, query letters, and publishing market trends, sometimes I forget why I'm doing this. I forget why I write. I write to bring something to life that was never there before. I write because words are magic. They can make something happen in your mind that feels as real as living it. I write for the joy of language, for the power of story. I write because I want to give people something wonderful to read.

I'll be a better writer if I remember.

Why do you write?


  1. How I wish I had a noble reason, but for me, it literally is a compulsion. I have to do it or life is not okay. What's funny is that I'm very critical of artists portrayed in books and films who must create or suffer, because I am one, and these portrayals are nearly always inaccurate in two ways. 1) how neurotic you get if you don't create has no relation, whatsoever, to how talented you are. Take it from me. It's taken me ten years of working my tail off to get to where I'm starting to produce sale-able pieces. The compulsion made me practice; it's not a sign of genius. 2) I don't swoon or have a dramatic breakdown if I don't create. I just sort of shrivel up emotionally and go to a dark and unhappy place. I'm sure it's very uninteresting, and even annoying to watch. Some artists say they envy me. I think they're weird - not that I dislike myself in the least. I just don't understand wishing you had a compulsive disorder :-)

  2. You made me chuckle, Emily. I think my writing has become a compulsive disorder, but it didn't start out that way. And if it is never more than a compulsive disorder I don't know if I'll really improve. I could write and write compulsively forever and not get better.

    Are you sure you don't have a noble reason?

  3. For picking the projects I do and how I sketch them out, yes, but for writing in general? Definitely not. It's that or curl up and whimper. I am in the same category as people who write with crayon on shopping bags in order to silence the voices in their heads. I'm not that bad (usually), but I totally get why they do it.

  4. A very thought provoking question! I can relate to pretty much everything you wrote above. I also write because it's who I am: a writer. I write because I want to share who I am to the world. I write because it is all I really have to offer (outside being a mommy and a wife that is). Great post!

  5. Like Emily, I write because I can't not write. Which is strange (and a bit shocking) considering I just picked up the pen a few years ago. But as I look beneath the compulsion, I find that I'm bursting with the need to tell story, to see the gears turn in my boys' heads, to hear the feedback from readers when they are entranced with the ideas that I have planted in their head through my written words.

    I just finished reading a very literary novel. I'm not a big fan of literary works, but this one at least made me finally, truly understand how literary functions (I think) and why it's effective in what it does for character. But the biggest thing I took away from that novel was "Wow, she's a wonderful writer." And that's not what I want my readers to think. I want them to think, "Holy cats, that was an amazing story" and forget that there was an actual person that wrote it. ;)

  6. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Like you, Rebecca, I became so caught up in the quest for publication that I forgot why I was doing it. I've taken the better part of a year to step back and remember. The answer? Because like you said, words are magic, they are beautiful, they are the basis for creation. Well, at least my kind of creation. I started writing because it brought me joy. Finding that joy again has been a journey in itself. And I've remembered a few more things along the way like, I must write for me--not for potential agents, editors, or even readers. If they don't like it, I can always find a new audience that will. But if I don't love what I'm writing, I can never find a new me.

  7. I agree with all the reasons you gave above, Rebecca. I also write because just the process alone is therapeutic. It's very soothing to disappear into a world of my own making for a period of time. I can explore dangerous situations and control the outcome. Sometimes I'm shocked to learn how I really feel about something - and I have time to face an ugly part of me and work it out before it ever hits a social situation. And just the creative process is amazing. I think everyone has the need to create something, whether its a photograph, a garden, a cherried-out classic car, art, etc. Writing fills that need quite nicely, at least for me. Great post, by the way!

  8. Great comments, everyone! Thanks so much. I should also mention I write because sometimes I have mornings like today where I KNOW I NAILED THAT SCENE! YES! IT ROCKS! Okay, I will calm down now and go comment on Emily's excellent post.

  9. I can still remember when I wrote my first story. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and before that I did a little writing, but nothing more than a few pages. Then, in one day, I wrote a ten page short story. I was shocked at how it felt like reading, but ten times more powerful. After that, I was hooked. In the three and a half years since then, I've written two full length manuscript size stories and I'm working on a third.


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