I’m a writer. Whether it’s flash fiction, or my growing mound of as-yet-unpublished short stories and novels, or this blog, or academic papers, or Sunday School notes, or devotionals, I enjoy writing. But why do I write? What is it about writing that makes me want to do it? Some writers say they can’t not write, or if they don’t write they feel sick, or their world is out of kilter. For some, writing is literally a life-line, saving them from mental stagnation, or perhaps from engaging in less positive activities.
These aren’t my reasons. There are other things I can do (most not nearly as well, however), and I don’t feel like I have to write every day. I don’t believe this makes me less of a writer. But if I don’t live to write (or write to live), why bother? Here are some of my reasons:
To Communicate. I don’t consider myself a sharp speaker. I’m not one of those people who always has the right word on the tip of his tongue. Writing gives me the chance to think about what I want to say, choose the correct words, and craft the sentences so they sing–or at least make a pleasant noise–and do this in my own time. With writing, I can also edit before I publish. Once a thing is said, there’s no taking it back. It’s out there, hanging in the air, and echoing in the ears and brains of all who heard it. When you’re writing, you can let your words sit for a day or two, and tweak them before making them public.
To Create. I have a very strong creative impulse. My non-verbal outlet for creativity is music; my verbal outlet is writing. I enjoy creating worlds and characters in my mind, and breathing life into them on the page (or screen). I derive a lot of pleasure from dreaming up possible (and impossible) situations, “what-if” scenarios, and letting them play out in a story. And I love the power stories have not only to entertain, but to educate, and to make you think about things you may never have given thought to before. This gift of creativity is a divine gift, one of God’s communicable attributes, as theologians would say. No other living organism on this planet has been given such creative ability. That alone is good reason to exercise it.
To Affect. Stories, like music, are powerful. They affect people. This affect might be fleeting, or it might be quite profound. It can be no more than giving someone a laugh, or a scare, making a few minutes’ down-time that much more enjoyable. Or the story might comfort someone through a difficult time, or help someone deal with a major issue in his or her life, touching deep into the soul.
When I was young, I was prone to temper tantrums. My mum could tell you stories of the hissy fits I pulled because I did or didn’t want to do something I was being told to do (or not to do). Often these tantrums would end up with me being sent to my room in tears. I would lie on my bed sobbing angrily into my pillow, sometimes hitting the floor or the door (depending on how mad I was) to get my parent’s attention, so they would understand how upset I was, and perhaps have a change of heart. (I’m glad to say, they always held firm and never gave in to me.) After a while, the tears would subside, but I would smolder under a cloud, like a spent fire billowing smoke. That’s when I would go to my bookshelf and pick out a book. We had a set of “Wonderful World of Disney” books, each volume dedicated to a different aspect of the Disney film output (nature, fairy tales, live-action adventure, etc.) One of these books contained fiction stories. This was my go-to book for when I was smoldering. And my go-to story featured Donald Duck (no surprise). I don’t recall the details of the story, but it involved Donald getting really upset about things, and having to choose between following the angel duck on one shoulder, or the devil duck on the other shoulder. Donald ends up learning his lesson and doing the right thing. By the time I got to the story’s end, my cloud had lifted, the smoke dissipated, and I would be back to my better self, possibly even feeling a bit guilty for getting so angry.
I don’t know who wrote that story, but if my writing could have such an impact on even one person, I’d be very gratified.
If you’re a writer, why do you write? Are you one of those “write-or-die” writers, or do you have a much more casual relationship with writing?