For the past couple of days, I’ve been asking myself this very question. “Why do so many people want to write?” I know lots of writers. The writers I know include poets, novelists, short story writers and screenwriters. I know people who make their living writing articles for newspapers, magazine articles and copy for websites and people who just write the odd poem here and there. I know people who’ve published widely and people who write only for themselves. For the past two summers, I’ve taught kids who go to camp for a week specifically to write. Last week, I judged a poetry contest that had over 200 entries.
If you think about it, writing is kind of dumb. A writer just strings words together. It generally doesn’t result in wealth, fame or killer abs. Most writers have day jobs and writing becomes something that people try to sneak in on the side. The writing process can frustrating and isolating. Writers have to spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts, which is not always the best way to live. The industry is pretty depressing, as local bookstores close, publishers go bankrupt, and newspapers continue to lose sales.
Yet all kinds of people continue to want to write. November marks the start of National Novel Writing Month, a time when hundreds of people sign up to try and write a 50,000 novel in 30 days.
People sometimes express awe when I tell them I’m published two books of poetry. Writing is something that many people think of as esoteric, special and magical. There’s a feeling or belief that not everything can be a writer, that writing is something only special people can do. In reality, those who succeed probably succeed because they spend a lot of time writing, study the craft, don’t give up and aren’t afraid to put their work out there.
I’ve been thinking about this all of this as I finish up a project. About a month ago, I was at the point where I absolutely hated the project and just wanted to be done it. Working on it was torturous. Yet I have a deadline, and a client, so I continued on. I finished the first draft, started revising, and all of a sudden, I liked my project again and the work became satisfying and fun.
When I was stuck in the phase of hating the project, I started questioning why I was a doing this. If I hated writing so much, why was I so torturing myself? I started thinking about what I would do instead. I have to admit that my list was pretty paltry. I’m a great bookseller (literary) and a good reporter (also literary). I might be a good shepherd? I think it would be interesting to raise sheep.
Most of my life and my focus has been on writing and trying to become a better writer. I read a lot, write, go to literary readings and workshops and spend a lot of time trying to become a better writer. It’s pretty much my life. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing this. I’ve been on this path for years.
I have a new project that I’m in the process of starting. I’m excited about it, but It’s the biggest project that I’ve ever done, and I’m doubting my own abilities. To be honest, I’m scared. My project is making me even more reflective about the writing life, so I’m going to come back to my original question.
“Why do people want to write?”
I have several answers.
1. We want to communicate and express ourselves. How else can you explain the popularity of blogs and tweets?
2. Humans are naturally storytellers. We want to tell stories, amuse ourselves, explore our worlds and make it bigger. We want to tell stories for ourselves and others. Our world is full of stories. We love them, and we want to make them ourselves.
3. Humans like to make things. Some people knit, garden or cook. How else do you describe the popularity of Martha Stewart back in her prime? Life is about making things. Personally, I have to say that the moment when you hold your finished book in your hand is a magical moment. I’ll never get tired of seeing my name on a masthead or my story in an anthology. There’s just something about it. There’s something about finishing a story, finding out how it turns out and thinking, “I created this. I did this.”
Are there things I’m missing? Why do YOU want to write?