Episode 32 – Dear Writer, Why Do You Write?
Why do you write?
This is the quintessential question every writer needs to ask themselves. In fact, if you don’t have an answer, I suggest coming up with one now. People are going to ask you. They will probably ask you this question as often as they ask you how you come up with ideas. Of course, no answer you give is going to actually going to provide an insight into the world of writing. It’s incredibly personal. The answer is different for each of us, but I think it is probably the most important question you can ask.
I can’t tell you why you write. I can’t give you a universal answer that will satisfy everyone who asks. I can only tell you why I write.
I write to survive.
In a way, I always have. Even when I was a little kid and would spend time staring off into space instead of paying attention in class. I was creating a world to deal with the issues inside my brain. Each quarter, I would come home from school with a report card filled with decent grades and a comment from my teachers saying something along the lines of “Matt is a good student, but he is easily distracted.”
Well, I am easily distracted.
My brain likes to spend time reliving the past or trying to invent a future. I find myself slipping away into endless fantasies. I rehash discussions and wish I could have said something a little different. I think of the small changes I could make to fix myself and the world.
Because, Writer, I am broken, and I write to be fixed.
I remember sitting in Mr. K’s creative writing class as a high school freshman. It was spring of 1998, and I was fourteen years old. I was younger than most of my classmates, a byproduct of starting school in a different state, and always felt alienated. All of my friends were older than me and I couldn’t always understand their world. I wasn’t just physically younger, I was an emotional late bloomer. I never felt like I fit in. I never felt connected.
Mr. K gave me a chance to change that, even if only on the page.
Our daily writing prompts allowed me to explore experiences and emotions I wasn’t able to handle on a conscious level. I was able to go places and live through things I didn’t fully understand and comprehend, and in experiencing them on the page, I was able to make them a part of me. I wrote stories to become part of the world. Without the awkward misgivings of my own voice standing in the way, those stories let me connect with others. I felt like I was part of something. I felt like I could bond with people. I felt human.
And, to the credit of the greatest English teacher of all time, I started to come out of my shell a bit. When we turned in final draft assignments, Mr. K would share some of the best with the class. I wasn’t always picked, but I was part of those standouts often enough other people in class began to ask me for advice on writing. Advice I was too broken and confused to give. It didn’t matter, I felt important. I felt remembered.
And I became addicted.
I spent the rest of my high school career trying to remember how much of an impact my writing could have. Of course, this led me to the one place every teenager in the late 90s eventually ended up, LiveJournal. I wrote down all of these harsh, irregular emotions in what is possibly my most prolific era as a writer. When you spend all of your time in egotistical navel gazing, words come easily. At the time, I even thought I was actually opening up and bleeding onto the page. Eventually, my little community of LJ friends grew, and I began to get regular comments and feedback.
Once again, I felt connected. I felt important. I felt remembered.
The addiction was sated.
When I dropped out of college in 2001 and moved 150 miles from home, I found myself once again isolated and alone. I satisfied my need for others by going to IHOP every night. At least the servers would talk to me and acknowledge my presence and it was much better than laying around my cold empty apartment watching the stack of DVDs I’d rented from Blockbuster.
I had to justify the six or seven hours I spent alone at a restaurant, though, and that meant writing. I would sit with a spiral bound notebook and scribble for hours. I could no longer afford an Internet connection, so there was no LiveJournal community. There was only me and a notebook.
The thing about sitting and writing in public, though, is eventually someone comes up to you and asks you if they can read what you are writing.
It took quite a bit of prodding, both from wait staff I’d become on a first name basis with and the other all night patrons, before I was willing to share my notebook with anyone. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but I knew what I was hoping for.
I wanted a connection. I wanted to feel important. I wanted to be remembered.
I was given praise. You will never know how much that praise actually meant to me.
I was an addict getting his first score in months.
Those little scribbles in that spiral notebook lead me to a group of friends who encouraged me and kept me going. Whenever it looked like I was losing steam in one creative pursuit, they would toss me into another direction. Of the next several years, I would get pulled into writing fanfic, running role-playing games, and even heading back into LiveJournal to join a few journal based games based on Harry Potter and the X-Men.
I wrote and participated in a community. I made connections. I felt important. I was remembered.
It was like injecting uncut heroin directly into my heart.
Just like any good drug addict, the crash was coming.
I met someone—a woman. I loved her, and I think she loved me. After years of courtship, we got married.
It didn’t end well.
I stopped writing. I stopped connecting. I stopped feeling important…
I didn’t want to be remembered.
Things got dark for a long time. I got dark. I became bitter and angry. No one wanted to be around me. I can’t blame them, I didn’t want to be around myself.
I can’t remember what brought me back to writing. Honestly, there is so much darkness around that time, I can’t remember anything. But, I do remember the very first time I wrote a blog post.
It wasn’t the same as being on LiveJournal. I didn’t have any friends or a community. I was just putting words onto a page to make something, anything happen. I was angry about something—I always was back then—and I needed to address it so I could make the world a better place. Apparently, I something I saw on Facebook must have been the catalyst, because my very first ever blog post was called, “I Love to Hate Facebook,” and spends too much time ranting about how ignorant Facebook has made us all. At least I still feel that way most of the time. It’s nice to know I was consistent.
I was horrible at blogging for the first few months. To this day, I don’t know how I was able to keep going. It must have been the compulsion to chase the high. I needed to feel something other than depressed and angry. Just like any good addict.
Then things began to turn around for me. I started to find an audience. It was small but loyal. It was encouraging. Most of them were fellow bloggers in a similar position, and I felt a connection.
Something was different this time, though.
I don’t know if I’ve matured, finally. I don’t know if maybe something inside me completely broke free. I don’t know a lot of things.
This time, it wasn’t about the addiction, it was about the connection. I was connected, but I didn’t feel like I needed to be important or remembered. I just needed to be writing and honest.
I opened up and bled on the page. I shared my soul. I shared my worries, my anxieties, my passions and my pains. I felt genuine and real. I felt understood without my word salad getting in the way. I didn’t need to bravado. I didn’t need a persona to wear in order to fit into some paradigm.
I write because I need to connect with others. I write because it lets me bond. I write because I can be understood with my words in a way I can’t with my voice. I write because if I don’t, I can’t be aware of the truth of my own soul.
And that’s why it’s okay if I don’t become rich and famous. I no longer write to be important or powerful. I no longer write to change the world.
There are a lot of reasons to write. You might write to connect, like I do. You might write to be understood and heard. You might write to stand out in a crowded room. You might write because you need to rehash the past and create a better future. You might write for a paycheck. You might write because you can only move the first two fingers on your right hand and it is literally the only way you can communicate with the world.
I write because writing saved my life. I write to find others swimming in the same sea as myself. I write to make connections. I write to make friends. I write because I am a writer and there is nothing else I can do.
I know why I write.