Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why Do You Write?

It's a pretty simple question, but sometimes I wonder how many writers actually consider this honestly.  Flipping through the pages of most bestsellers you'd find in the bookstore, with their simplistic, stale, and languid prose, one would think most of these contemporary novelists write for little more than a paycheck or notoriety, writing books that will satisfy both publishers and bored housewives to the tune of paperback sales.

One of my favorite quotes regarding the act of writing comes from one of my favorite authors, George Orwell, form his personal essay "Why I Write".  In it, Orwell speaks on some motivations for writing, those of which he feels are noble and those which he feels stray from the idea of writing as an art form.  As he concludes the piece, Orwell searches for the most personal of reasons behind his own writing, declaring that:  

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

Never before had I read anything that so perfectly characterized my own feelings towards writing, this idea that there are words and stories stuck within me like some virus worming through my veins that needs to come free of my body.  Getting this thing, this organism, these words out of my system on onto a sheet of paper or a computer screen has always been the trouble, the "long bout of some painful illness" that Orwell spoke of, something that I would never see through to the end because it was so difficult.  I know now though that resisting, attempting to quit, is a useless gesture, as I will always come back to pick up the pen or turn on a word processor no matter how long I leave my ideas and my craft dormant.

The reason for this is the answer to my own question.  I write because I am compelled to do so.  What compels me I have no knowledge of but it's there, always, in my blood, in the deepest regions of my thoughts.  I have been this way for as long as I could remember, even before I began forming structured stories on paper I would create vast tales in my imagination for my own enjoyment.  It is then perhaps a desperate need to displace these swarms of imaginings from my brain out into the real world, to give these things shape and function, to give wordless expressions a form pleasing to both the ear and the eye.

So I ask you, all of you who call yourself writers, as I know there are quite a few of you who read this space, to ask yourself "why do I write?" and to formulate a real, concrete response, an honest one.  For yourself rather than for anyone else.  I'd be interested to know what you come up with though, if you care to share.