I usually come here with something I feel I need to say, something pulling at the seams of me, an argument or a theory or a thesis that needs to come out, lest it eat its way out. I’ve usually been thinking about it for the past week, imagining all the counter arguments, thinking of my examples, practicing turns-of-phrases in my mind to prepare me for my weekly exorcism of whatever has irked or fascinated or confounded me in the world of storytelling.
Not this week. This week, I bring neither a statement nor argument, a theory nor manifesto. This week, I just have a question and a confession.
The question is, “why do we write?” And while I mean “write” specifically, I am just as fascinated by the larger question of “why do we create?” I’m curious and intrigued by what drives certain people to feel that they need to tell a story, while others are perfectly content being listeners rather than contributors.
I don’t really have an answer to this question, but I do have a confession…
I hate writing.
It’s almost always an ordeal, a torture of time and a consistent, nagging reminder that I am neither as clever nor as quick-witted as I would like to be. It’s a humbling experience, and that’s before anyone even reads it and judges it… or doesn’t read it, and it’s just sitting there unappreciated, unnoticed. And that’s even worse.
Words don’t come to me as quickly as I would like, sentences are a hodgepodge of broken phrases thrown together and then reexamined, surgically operated upon again and again like a failing med student redoing his final exam on a corpse. Finding the word, then the phrase, then the sentence, then the paragraph, trying to link them all together, is a constant battle, no matter how many times you’ve done it before. For some of us, though, I truly believe it comes naturally; it’s an effort, yes, but not an ordeal. Not for me. I doubt every syllable, every paragraph break, every punctuation.
And then there’s the time spent doing it. On a beautiful, sunny day outside, while friends are drinking beer and playing games, watching movies, or at sporting events, I’m inside, tapping away on a keyboard… or I should be, anyway. The temptation to do something else–anything else–is sometimes overwhelming. I can spend an entire day at my computer, staring at the blank page I’m supposed to be filling, consistently distracted by the amusements afforded by the Internet. ‘Just one more website,’ I’ll tell myself, ‘then I’ll get back to work.’ Spoken like a true junkie.
So why do I do it?
Because while the act of writing is a kind of masochistic ordeal, I do love to create. I love the feeling of expressing myself in a manner that is reasonably articulate and cohesive, and I gain a tremendous amount of pride and a sense of accomplishment when I have successfully completed a piece of work, whether it’s a blog post, a short story, an article or a short film. Even if no one else will ever see it, I love to be able to see it for myself, as proof that I can do something well, that I do have some talent, something that sets me apart from everyone else.
But ego strokes and sense of accomplishment aside, there is also something intensely personal about writing. In some sense, it’s as close as many of us get to a kind of meditation, a time spent focusing inwardly, hopefully without distraction. After a particularly good writing session, I feel reinvigorated and intellectually satiated. I feel driven to write because there are things I feel that I need to say, or just as likely, problems I’m trying to figure out, and in the midst of writing about it, a solution often presents itself, or if not a solution then at least a path towards one.
I also appreciate that writing is one of the few artistic practices that isn’t contingent on collaboration. There’s a sense of ultimate creative control in writing that is uniquely liberating and satisfying compared to some of the other artistic disciplines, like music and film. Of course, once you start making money at it, there’s usually someone around to tell you that you can’t do this or say that, but at least at its heart, writing is about personal expression, not group collaboration with all the wonky social dynamics that inevitably ensue.
But I think the thing about writing that keeps bringing me back, and one of the reasons why at certain times I write more than at other times, is that it’s an opportunity to share a story with someone else, to make a connection and hopefully provoke a conversation.
I am not a confident speaker. I don’t like crowds. I’m terrible at small talk. I can’t really exchange pleasantries very convincingly. I’m terse and reticent, a bit shy and uncomfortable most of the time. I don’t like meeting new people.
But it’s not so much other people that are the problem; it’s me. And it’s not that I don’t want to communicate with other people, but I do want to cut through the bullshit and get to the good stuff, and that’s usually a pretty big faux pas when you don’t even bother to ask someone how they’re doing today. If or when the conversation is finally steered towards something somewhat interesting, I often feel like my mouth can’t keep up with my mind, which either results in a lot of inarticulate rambling or me deciding to abstain from conversation altogether.
Writing is my one outlet to communicate with the outside world where I feel like I’m on equal ground. And whether it’s writing a fictional story or discussing a topic in a blog post, writing allows me to say things that I can’t say aloud; it’s a way of starting a conversation and getting right to the good stuff, even if that conversation originates between me and my computer.
The problem is that if writing is my way of socializing without having to actually socialize, what happens on those occasions when my social life is fully satisfying and enriching, or I’m obsessed with other artistic endeavors or projects? In recent years, as I’ve become a more confident speaker and been more socially minded, hanging out with friends and family more often, the urge to write has diminished as a result.
Before 2014, I had barely written anything for a couple of years. Life got in the way, friends got in the way, excuses came up and eclipsed my need to sit down at the computer. Now I’ve re-energized my passion for writing, but at the same time, there are weeks that I don’t feel that same drive I once had. As a writer, I need a constant pressure, a constant reason to produce something, to really and fully get in the habit of writing at least semi-regularly.
But enough about me.
I’m curious what writing means to other writers out there, if the art of typing random words on a screen and attempting to string them together is as simultaneously therapeutic and maddening for many of you as it is for me. I’m curious why you want to tell stories? In a modern world where we are arguably surrounded by better and more varied storytelling than at any other time in human history, what need is there to throw another log on the wildfire? Is it a competitive urge to create something even better, or is it merely the need to express a point of view that you feel is still underrepresented?
But really, when you get right down to it, what I want to know, what I must know, is why write when you could be drinking instead?