Why Do I Want to Write?

“Why do I want to write.” I suspect the question has plagued most writers to a greater or lesser degree throughout their careers. It’s probably the reason so many people fail to ever make a serious attempt at writing. Combined with the fear of publishing my words, it is likely the most significant impediment to writing I have had to overcome. The lack of an answer to the question has killed my ambition more times than I care to remember.

Some writers are naturals, or at least they seem to be. In his book On Writing, Stephen King discusses his journey into writing.  The way he tells it, his career was pretty much preordained. From a young age, he wrote. Other prominent writers share similar histories.  I’m not one of them. I wrote only when forced by my teachers. Until now, that is.

I told a coworker about my new blog today. He asked me why I wanted to write, as I had never shared this ambition with him before. After thinking about it a bit, I realized there are more than a few ways to answer that question. Honestly, I wasn’t sure which way to go with it.

Do I want to make lots of money? If I said “no” I’d be lying. Who doesn’t want to be flush? But saying I wanted to write for the money feels cheap. It’s partially true, of course, I believe anyone who puts in a sincere effort at any art should receive appropriate compensation. But it still feels cheap. Did Thoreau write for the money? Or Twain? What about Austen? Everyone assumes they toiled and sacrificed for the benefit of the stories. They may have, but I don’t think writing required it of them. (I suspect that somewhere down deep beneath the assumed artistic purity of the great ones is a hungry stomach – or a thirsty one if the history has a lot of them pegged correctly).

What about fame? Do I want to try to make my dent in the universe as Steve Jobs claims everyone does? Perhaps. The idea of having my name known to the masses is certainly attractive. We all want a slice of immortality. I think we all, either subconsciously or otherwise, want to be known for our works, preferably the good ones.

There are the altruistic motives, too. I want to help people become better writers, better business owners, better humans. While true, I worry that the reality of my efforts may fall well short of that goal, no matter the sincerity with which I practice the craft. So is it hubris to set out with that goal in mind? Part of me suspects it is. The other part is likely naivete.

I suppose there could be an element of the vexed artist in me, but I’ve never seen it. I probably wouldn’t recognize it if I did. While I have feelings like every other human, I’m not convinced they have ever been tortured to the point of needing to be expressed so purposefully. I’m more reserved than that. Additionally, I grew up in America, white, in a middle-class family, was not abused, played sports, got good grades, loved, laughed, and danced my way through life thus far. My life history is not the stuff that makes for a good tortured artist.

The likely answer is that I, like every other person throughout history who has decided to put ink to paper, write for some combination of the above-listed reasons. How much each bears on my drive I cannot truthfully say, as each has an element of truth as a part of the whole. You see, I have wondered what it was that has whispered in my ear for so many years that I should be compelled to take to the written word that I have exhausted my ability to accurately discern my motives. The answer still completely eludes me, though I’ve finally succumbed to the call.

What makes you want to write? Is your message so important to the world that you cannot keep silent? Is your idea so unique that it merits introduction to the ignorant masses? What makes us, as writers, so compelled to put our thoughts into the world, arrogantly assuming that some number of readers will find them worthy? I have no illusion about the merits of my words vis a vis anyone else’s. My take on a given idea is no more unique than anyone’s, so what makes it so special? For that matter, what makes your thoughts so special? And the real question is, does the reason matter?

Leave a Reply