“I’d be reaching for the razor blades if I didn’t write each day.” – Unknown
I recently read the above statement regarding the razor blades and writing while aimlessly trawling through the multitude of conversations on a writing forum. It was from a writer I didn’t know but my reaction when I first read that sentence was along the lines of a dismissive “way to exaggerate there”. But that line or really my reaction to that line stuck with me for a few days. Why had I so easily dismissed this writer’s reason for writing? It’s as valid as any other as to why millions of people write every day.
A journalism lecturer had said to me years ago that for some people, if they didn’t write regularly, they would start to feel unwell or they just wouldn’t feel right in themselves. This is something I can relate to and it made me feel doubly guilty about dismissing the one simple act that made the above writer feel better each day.
My attitude to this line bothered me because I’d allowed my cynical side to immediately invalidate what this person was saying and when that happens you are effectively closing your mind, you’re not listening and that’s death for a writer.
Hemingway famously said that there was nothing to writing – all you had to do was sit at a typewriter and bleed while James Joyce said that writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in a previous life. Flannery O’Connor went one better by describing writing a novel as, “a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay”, although I’m hoping she was indeed exaggerating with that line.
Writing sounds like a torturous process for some while for others it’s a form of release, a cathartic act, and the former sometimes leads to the latter.
The need to write, the ‘because you have to’, can be different from why people do actually write. Writing for a muse, for money (good luck with that) or to get a message across are just some of the reasons why we sit and pour out words onto a blank sheet every day or as often as possible.
With all of the above running through my head and in an attempt to get rid of my recent, hopefully temporary cynicism – to throw the snark from my back as it were, I went to the source and asked six writers one question – why do you write?
Their answers did not disappoint.
Arthur Nersesian, New York
I vaguely remember Kafka’s parable The Great Wall of China, in which some emperor initiates this vast, ambitious project even though it would take centuries to complete. Slowly its scope and meaning evolves. Indeed, over time, some of the workers become disconnected from why it was built in the first place and it sort of becomes a thing unto itself. I always saw this as a metaphor for writing.
When I started out, still in my teens, it was a romantic endeavor. Literature seemed like such an admirable pursuit. I thought it could withstand time, gain respect of those around, and had a limitless earning potential. And quite simply I loved the act of writing, of creating. While in my master’s writing program, I should have grown suspicious when they never offered a single class on things like income potential, or for that matter any of the business aspects of literature. It seemed almost taboo to mention such details, like the fact that for every novel that earns money – or a sizable readership – there are a million more that never even get published.
Being a writer is like being stuck in a leaky rowboat tossed about in a tumultuous sea of poverty, rejection and isolation. But I still love writing. And in fairness, when I look around and see my friends around me, many have money, but hate their jobs, or find no meaning in them. Everyone has to make some trade-offs, or they get made for you.
Julian Gallo, New York
Writing is something I’ve always loved to do – ever since I was a little kid. Although music had taken a front seat for most of my younger years, I still found the time to always write something: stories, poems, aborted novel attempts. I was always a voracious reader so I suppose it made sense that I would eventually try my hand at it, to make up my own stories rather than just read someone else’s.
My reason for writing is really twofold: I love to do it. I enjoy it immensely. I enjoy making up stories, enjoy making up these characters and trying to bring them to life and see a “slice” of their life story appear on the page. It’s also very therapeutic, even though my novels and stories tend not to be autobiographical. However, you mine your own experiences: feelings, thoughts, loves, hates, trials and tribulations, fantasies, childhood experiences, relationships, observations – all of this go into it, of course spread out across the various characters within the story. Whether one likes it or not, it forces you to face certain things about yourself and your life and for the most part it helps you deal with issues you thought were tamped down somewhere in the background or the subconscious.
I also write to get particular ideas across because I feel I have something to say, whatever that may be for the particular project. Writing was never about money, fame, accolades or validation for me. I would continue to write no matter what – even if I had only one reader. And for many years, I did, quite literally. I do it for the joy it brings. I do it because I have to – much like anyone must do whatever they feel is an important part of their life and who they are.
Bill Friday, Los Angeles
I played at writing for years, thinking that my stories had something in them that should be told. But it wasn’t until I found myself the owner of a failing used book store that I had nothing but time on my empty hands with which to write.
And I kinda sucked at it.
But I didn’t stop.
Now, over ten years later, I still kinda suck at it. But I’m getting better. And along with getting better at words, has come the understanding that the writing of them is, in some less-than-completely knowable way, a birthing of sorts. A birthing of a living, breathing, creative entity or offspring of those first words and ideas that told me there were stories inside me, and that I must share.
Whether the words suck, or not.
Loren Kleinman, New Jersey
I’ve always written poetry. It seemed to come natural. I think poets are just called to it. I don’t want to sound too cliché, but poetry is a calling. I think you have it or you don’t. Now, I don’t mean to say that by “having it” you don’t have to revise, I mean that you have the seed of some flower that hasn’t grown yet. You don’t write poetry. You are poetry.
I read so much poetry. I love (love) Franz Wright, Charles Simic, Anis Shivani, Sharon Olds, Langston Hughes, Jim Daniels, Galway Kinnell, Sonia Sanchez, Anne Sexton, Claudia Serea, Sylvia Plath, Julia Hartwig, etc.
I also love fiction. I’ve been eating up Meg Wolitzer. Love Francisco Goldman, Charlie Smith, Vladimir Nabokov. It’s important to read outside of your genre. It keeps you less static. There’s always something to learn from reading across genres.
I also want to mention that I’m a reviser. I’m a re-writer. My process involves lots of re-writing. Everything sounds good when you’re in the thick of writing. Then you go back to it and wonder if you were drunk the whole time or maybe if you fell asleep with your head on the keyboard. Nothing makes sense, and you’re sure it did before. So I re-write until it makes sense, until it aligns to what’s really in my head, what’s really the story. I try to keep myself out of it. I always make things difficult (in regard to writing I mean). But, the writing process is so mysterious. Somehow things come together. It’s the closest thing to fate.
Hunter S. Jones, Atlanta, Georgia
How Many Angels Can Dance On A PinHead?
What makes a writer write? That is a brilliant question in this renaissance of indie publishing and much like the great question of the European Renaissance over 500 years ago…How many angels can dance on a pinhead?
The answer? Who knows? Personally, reading and writing have always been my escape from the world. A way to express myself or hide away, maybe at the same time. It’s what I always wanted to do, once upon a time, but societal pressures (meaning my parents) forced me into corporate America. That was great and I was very successful, but an Achilles rupture in 2012 led to two surgeries to reconstruct my leg. Creative writing gave me a way to use my imagination and escape the horrors I had to face – physically and emotionally.
Why do writers write? Maybe it’s a compulsion as much as an artistic venue. My answer? I do not know why writers write. I am just thankful that we can.
And the last word goes to poet Dean Walker, Forestville, California
I first saw her when I was a child.
She was a little girl,
Washing clothes down by the creek.
I was mad she didn’t own a washing machine.
I saw her again when we both were teens.
She was picking flowers,
And dancing with the bees.
We spent our evenings at the beach,
Contemplating how to make a change.
She kissed me and then stared up at the stars.
Her words resonated like a bass guitar,
When she strangely asked me, “Who you are?”
I had no an answer for my Muse that night.
And so, to shine some light, I learn to write.
Thanks to all the writers who took the time out to take part in this.
Click on the writer’s name to find out more about their work.
About the Author: Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal is a freelance writer living in the UK. His short stories and articles have appeared in print and online including Expats Post, The Andirondack Review, Turnrow Journal, Roadside Fiction and Orato. br> His first book Leaving London is available on Amazon and other retailers now. br> View My Profile