Why do you write, and why do I write? These are questions which seem to be asked frequently. I once heard someone answer by saying, “I have to write.” I can’t in any good conscience argue or question that response, yet it does not fit for me. I breathe because I have to. I eat Häggen Dazs butter pecan ice cream because I have to. I write because I like to and because I feel a need to create something tangible. It is not something I must do.
I was at a party some years back and a person was explaining in great detail how she was in an art museum and had seen a painting that changed her life. I’ve can’t recall having ever had that experience. I’ve seen beautiful women that dazzled me, I’ve seen a $1,900,000 Bugatti Veyron sports car that awed me, and I’ve heard K. D. Lang sing notes that were songbird perfect. But nothing in those realms ever changed my life. I’ve read sentences that made me stop and reread them again. I didn’t reread them because they were difficult to understand, but because they were beautiful written works of art and worthy of my taking a few moments to try and fully appreciate them.
Perhaps I write because I long to know that I will someday write a sentence that is uniquely beautiful. Maybe I write because I hope to make another person smile, think, or question. Perhaps my vanity is in play and I hope to leave behind some lasting written legacy. There is no question that I write because I love hanging around with my lovely writing friends. I am sure of one thing, those people, Karen, Deb, Devi, Wes, Brad, Mark, Carol, the list goes on and on, are among the best people I know. Writing gives me a legitimate reason to call them and say let’s get some coffee and talk about writing.
Yesterday on NPR, I heard an interview with the brilliant writer, Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried. He is 74 years old and a Vietnam War veteran. The interviewer noted O’Brien has had several serious bouts with pneumonia and wondered if he continues to smoke cigarettes. There was a pause, and he answered he does. He was asked why, given that he’d made a statement about forfeiting all his books for more years with his children. His response was startling. He said, “Because I’m afraid if I quit, I couldn’t write, and I have to keep writing.” As a non-smoker, I couldn’t understand the apparent direct connection he made between smoking and writing, but he was clear that he feared he could no longer write if he stopped smoking. We can all do our arm-chair analysis of that, yet O’Brien’s drive to continue writing was clear.
My career as a social worker and therapist was one that showed little tangible result. I didn’t lay bricks so that I could eventually see a completed structure I’d built. I didn’t overhaul car engines and see the auto run smoothly after my work. I talked some, listened a lot and sometimes I heard someone say, thanks, that helped. There were many days when I did not know if I’d accomplished anything. Writing, although not a career, provides something I can hold and say, “I did this, I created this story, or this book.”
I follow some online social media platforms that discuss and post thoughts about writing and publishing. I read of dreams of New York Times best sellers, I read of the frustrations of months of agent and publisher rejection letters and the exasperation of completing a self-published book and after months of effort, selling only eight copies. The old Field of Dreams comment about “Build it and they will come,” does not prove to always be true.
So I ask others, why do you write? Most answers sound similar, and I try to accept them for what they are. Everyone has their own motivations and reasons for putting word to paper. I think all answers are legitimate if answered honestly. Mickey Mantle would never have been in the MLB Hall of Fame, had he not tried. We might still believe the moon is made of green cheese had humanity not put forth the effort to travel that distance. Of Human Bondage or War and Peace would not have been read by millions had Somerset Maugham or Leo Tolstoy believed they had nothing to offer and simply waited until the right time.
So we come full circle. It doesn’t matter why you write, or why I write, except that it matters to us. I have many privileges in life, one of the most freeing being that I’m retired from a day-to-day job. But the therapist side of me says don’t be a “When-Then” person. Don’t say when I get my degree, then I’ll have enjoyable work. Don’t say when I move to Seattle, then I’ll be happy. Don’t put off playing golf, or writing, or building castles in the air until THEN. That day may never come. If you dream of writing and only have ten minutes a day to write, write for ten minutes. If you dream of being the next J. K. Rowling, sit down now and start writing, “There was this unique boy…”
Find what’s important to you, do it. This is the only life you have. Make the best use of it.
Go well, David.
“Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” Charles Bukowski.
Haiku 2 U 2
summer sky darkens
a prayer from those who know
monsoon rains bring life