Why do I write? Why do I do this day after day?
Another question: why do I read? That’s easy. I read because I love learning. I love a good story. Plus, books can give an escape from life. But reading is easy and enjoyable. Writing is difficult. So why do I do it?
It’s obvious, really. The #1 reason is for all the money I make from it.
I’m laughing because I’ve earned very little from writing. I’m at the stage where I’m delighted to earn anything.
It’s like the time when I was paid (twice!) to sing as a soloist for holiday services at a church in Manhattan. This was back in the day, probably twenty years ago, when my voice was in good form. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was $50 for each song. Three songs total over two holidays. Honestly, I would’ve sung for free. I was surprised and excited that anyone, especially strangers, would pay me to sing. I was thrilled to get paid, but money wasn’t my reason for singing back then. And it’s not my reason for writing today.
So why do I write?
1. I write to share my unusual perspective on things. I nudge people to think differently.
2. I write to make the world a tinier bit better for my son to live in it. My son is neurodivergent. He’s sweet and trusting. He thinks most people are kind and friendly. I want to agree with him. But there are days when it seems that most people are intolerant and self-serving. Even the kind ones don’t always understand radical acceptance and inclusion. It’s not a kind world for a person with a disability. I write both fiction and nonfiction about neurodiversity in hopes that I can improve the world for him, even a tiny bit.
3. I write to live vicariously through my characters. We’re only given one life, and every choice we make means rejecting other choices. Sometimes, those choices are temporary, and we get to choose again. Like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books that I loved as a kid. Find yourself stuck somewhere? Stagnating? Go back to page 37 and choose again. But, more often than not, the thousands of decisions we make place us on a path. The possibility of side jaunts dwindles. For me, those “what-ifs” are seeds for stories.
Side note: I think a lot about choices made versus paths untaken. I love stories that show parallel, alternate timelines for a character based on the choices made. Like that movie, Sliding Doors. It’s one of my favorites. One of my earliest novel ideas was inspired by this idea of alternate timelines.
4. I write to explore the breadth of human experience and emotion. I like imagining stories and characters. I even like doing research for a story’s setting or a character’s career. Most of my fiction exists firmly within realism, but occasionally I’ll explore the possibility of the impossible. (Like this speculative fiction short story I wrote about an empath who swallows the earth and gives birth to a new world.)
5. I write to process my feelings. The mess I write when I’m working through emotions might sometimes turn into a poignant and well-written piece. But often I’m journaling for my own sanity. I joked with a fellow writer friend that someday, if I’ve become a famous author, my notebooks might be posthumously found. People will read them and say, “She really was a bit of a mess, wasn’t she?” For me, that’s the amazing thing about writing though. I’m less of a mess after writing it down.
6. I write to connect with other humans. To find my own people. The people who get me.
7. I write to allow myself to be known. This goes along with #6. For various reasons, it’s hard for me to forge close bonds. I often feel that people don’t get a chance to really know me. They might know the surface, or they might know the facts about me. But facts without context aren’t enough. Context is what allows people to get to know one another. I write to fill in the missing context.
8. I write to inspire you. Maybe I’ll inspire you to reach out to the introvert next door. (But don’t knock on her door or call her – just text or leave a note at the door.) Maybe I’ll inspire you to try something new with your kid. Maybe I’ll inspire you to not be fearful of an autism diagnosis. Maybe I’ll inspire you to read a good book. Maybe I’ll inspire you to pick up a pen and write from your heart. Maybe I’ll inspire you to ask for help. Maybe I’ll inspire you to create.
9. I write because I’m a logophile at heart. I’ve been an insatiable reader since kindergarten. As a child, I enjoyed flipping through my paperback copy of Webster’s Dictionary and underlining interesting words. I loved learning new words; the only problem was my mispronunciation of words learned from reading. I still love learning new words. I also enjoy learning the etymology and evolution of words. I remember when my husband and I chose our son’s name. One of the things that appealed to me was that the name we chose was derived from an ancient word in the Proto-Indo-European language. I loved the endlessness of how far back it stretched in time.
In one of those aforementioned “paths not chosen,” I think linguistics could have been an interesting career choice for me. Now I’ve gone and done it again. I’m imagining a character who is a linguist. I see her give an affectionate pat to Fortitude (the lion) on her way into the NYC Library. She’s working on some ancient text there. She wears glasses on a chain because it’s convenient – she doesn’t care how dated they look. She has five kids: all named with ancient monikers that somehow fit. This is giving me a cozy mystery vibe. I’ll stop there – don’t want to give away all my ideas! I’ll scribble this one down and expand on it in my Story Ideas notebook later.
In hindsight, it seems inevitable that I became a writer. My mind is filled with stories and words. Oftentimes the right word hovers just at the edge of another word.
As a writer, searching for the perfect word feels like walking through the butterfly house at the museum. Butterflies flit about. They’re all different colors, shapes, and sizes. I need the one that is just right. I see one flutter in my periphery, and I try to get a better look at it. I hold still so it doesn’t disappear into the leaves. Then it alights on the back of my hand. Ah, there it is! It’s perfect. A few more butterflies land. Now I can craft a satisfying sentence. (And then revise it. Ponder it. Change a word, move a comma. I’m not a speedy writer. I can mull over a sentence for a while.)
10. I write because I can. Of the three songs I sung for money, the only one I remember is The Holy City. I loved that song. I still remember how it went, but there’s no way I can hit those high notes anymore. Knowing this makes me a little forlorn. Even if you have some innate talent, if you don’t use and develop it then you’ll lose it. I write because I can. I’ve got a bit of talent for gluing words together, and I don’t want to waste it.
All these reasons add up to this one truth:
I write because I can’t not write.
What about you? Why do you create?
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