Writers write all for all kinds of reasons, but in the end, why we write is to access our humanity through giving rise to stories and our ideas and to give those ideas, expressions of humanity, the act of inquiry, and compassion as a gift to others.
Have you thought about why you write?
In her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, Annie Lamott starts by saying that writing is about telling the truth. She talks about the authentic rise of ideas as what drives stories. The reason one writes at all is to get to the heart of things.
Inevitably (and hilariously) regardless of how moving her speech is, every semester several students will wait for a break in the conversation to then ask, “But how do you get an agent?”
These students, she says with a sigh, “kind of want to write, but really want to be published.”
Perhaps they simply haven’t considered the true reason for writing yet.
She talks about why we write and what happens when we are given the gift of writing:
“ … for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life –wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for a good writing is unfounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.”
Indeed there are many reasons a person would be drawn to writing, and some of those would in fairness be practical. Wanting to be published and seeing your ideas laid out in a permanent format, earning money, or feeling catharsis from writing about what hurts are all perfectly reasonable desires.
But when most people go beneath the practical, they realize they write because getting at the truth is important– and not only for the individual but also as a gift for others.
Why We Write: For Ourselves
Naturally we write for ourselves first and foremost. We wouldn’t do it if there weren’t some pleasure mixed in with the challenge and frustration of making our ideas match up with our aspirations for them.
“I think one of the main things to remember when you’re writing is that writing should be pleasurable. It should be fun. It should be exploratory. You should be writing about things that surprise you.”
Joyce Carol Oates
Why We Write: To Share with Others as a Gift
Most people don’t want to write in a vacuum, meaning while we should enjoy generating the ideas, stories, and characters, we also don’t want our work to end with us.
Sharing our writing gives others the opportunity to derive meaning, inspiration, and engagement. We can rally others and inspire them to new places. We can help them heal.
We can give those who don’t have a voice a method for feeling like they’re both being heard and being advocated for. We can bring to light the stories that others seek to bury. We can make sure people are shown respect and honor their humanity.
When I asked some of the writers in the One Lit Place community why they write, every single one of them spoke to the same seminal purpose as does Lamott: to express the importance of the human soul, and to share that soul with others to make and broaden community while knitting it more closely together.
Allison Venditti, career coach and founder of CareerLove says, “I write as an advocate and a change maker. I write to fan the embers that are lighting up my soul. I write for comfort and I write to heal.”
Sarah, a first-time business owner and blogger at heyredshop.com from Virginia says, “I write because the urge to write compels me. It’s the first method of expression I gravitated towards as a child, adolescent and adult. Over time my position shifted from inward to outward. I began writing to start conversations, enter new ones, state an opinion, provide support or new perspective.”
Marianne Scott, author of Finding Ruby who is working on her forth novel, a speculative murder mystery, says, “There is something very special about being a story teller. Our audience, our readers, crave the escape that a story offers, especially in times of stress. As writers , it brings us joy, not only to craft words into imaginary characters, situations, and worlds, it feels wonderful to share that effort with people who love to read. It’s even better if they become a fan of your work.
Writing is hard work but when it comes together into a captivating story appreciated by others, it rewards in ways that fulfills your creative spirit. Writing is addictive. While life has thrown emotional challenges blocking my path, a writer’s passion is patient. I write because there are so many stories to tell. Stories stay in your head and will drive you crazy until you surrender them to the page, where they become a beautiful thing.”
Julie Larade, author of Laura’s Story and the sequel, To Fly Again, says, “‘Love what you do and do what you love.’ This motto sums it up for me! Writing my two novels has been one the best experiences in my life.”
Every of these writers speaks to writing as a gift, both to feed themselves and to feed others through sharing and connecting.
Writing as a Gift that Cares for Us and Our Recipients
It is common wisdom that a mother should care for herself so they are better able to care for their child. It is advised that a person put on their oxygen mask in order to be able to help the person sitting beside with theirs. It is known that when one is in a healthy, stable situation, they are in the best position to extend support to others in need.
Lewis Hyde in his book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World closes with the idea that writing lies at the core of a “gift economy.”
“Those who have the wit and power and vision to build beyond their own day: for artists, those will be the good ancestors of the generations of practitioners that will follow when we are gone.”
In the Jewish tradition, there’s a Hebrew word for a gift that is given in order to be kind or express empathy without any desire to be acknowledged or for it to be reciprocated called a “Mitzvah.”
Writers may write for a variety of reasons, but when you let go of what happens after the book has been published and received by a broader readership and simply write as a Mitzvah, the writing is rewarding, fulfilling, and deepens our connection to ourselves as we engage in it: a gift created in the making.
The world is working toward becoming a better place, more equipped to hold humanity with love and compassion, and our gift is knowing that the more we write, the more healing there will be. While the world still has a long ways to go, as Junot Diaz says in his beautiful story, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars,” all we can continue to do is try.
Your writing is important, and we want you to be successful in all the writing you do. Let us support you so you can get your work done. Please reach out for free consultation about your work today!