Chuck Wendig has a rare non-fiction-flash-challenge up this week – 1,000 words about Why I Write. It occurs to me that I haven’t addressed this topic properly, so here are my ‘reasons for writing’:
Why do I write?
It’s not even a habit, it’s a compulsion. Something I have to do. Without it, I would stop being able to express what I have within – the thoughts, the emotions, the imaginary things, the weirdness, the apathy, the fear, the joy. If I didn’t write, I might just implode, and have nothing left to say. I could stop creating, stop thinking for myself, just let myself be swept along and swung from emotion to emotion, thought to thought, event to event without reflection. Writing gives me context. It gives me self-expression. It gives me reason. It allows me to process what I see, feel and think. It allows me to say things that I don’t know how to tell anyone else or that I didn’t realise I was thinking.
Writing lets me connect with others. I started blogging a long time ago, and I haven’t stopped since. It’s self-publishing, a way of sharing with the world, owning your own words. It is also sending words out into the world – yes, to be judged, to be heard and seen. Writing isn’t for the faint-hearted – it takes sheer bravery to be able to put your words out there, and every time I hit publish on a blog post, I am afraid, but I do it anyway.
Writing keeps my heart open, allows me to feel things and accept things. To learn from my mistakes and work out where I’ve gone wrong, and to forgive myself. Writing keeps me from losing myself, especially in the dark moments when you are afraid that you’ll never feel again.
I don’t know if reading makes you want to be a writer. Not all readers are writers. I’m consumed by narratives – in films, in books, in TV series, in life, in plays, in documentaries. I like to connect the dots in life – I love knowing other people’s stories. I want to know more about people, about where they’ve been and where they want to go.
I want to know their motivations and their pain and their joys. I’m interested in the whys of everything – why does that person feel that way? Why do they believe that? How did they make those choices? Human motivation and psychology interest me, and so does the sociology underpinning the world. Meaning and empathy, that is what writing gives me.
When I was young, it was both film and books that pulled me into imaginary worlds. I am in love with the cinema. Even though it’s expensive, I feel it is one of the great pleasures of life, to go to the cinema and watch something on a huge screen, with crunchy popcorn underneath your feet. I adore everything from Star Wars to Midnight in Paris, but the films I love the most often have an element of the weird.
Books were, and still are, my biggest escape and consolation. It’s more complicated than just escape – I sometimes read books to find myself again, to pull the parts of my shattered self back into a whole. Or, I just read because I want to read about an interesting character that I can’t get out of my mind, a strange story, maybe something that teaches me new things.
I write to build imaginary worlds and because I need to get certain characters out of my mind – because they want to live on paper. Otherwise, they would crowd my mind and I’ll be that woman on the tube who keeps muttering to herself about zombie werewolves and the cat apocalypse. In the simplest terms, I like making things up. Something from nothing – something from the mash of popular culture and narrative that lives in my brain.
I also have the burning urge to write about characters that are missing from the books I read. Deaf people. Disabled people. People of color. Simply because these people are all around me in my world, especially in London. Flawed heroes and heroines, who might not actually be able to save the day, but they’ll try. Vampires who are more complicated than ‘sparkle sparkle’ or ‘there is a giant angry chip on my shoulder’. Or a were-leopard who wants to be an artist.
In the larger scheme of things, I also write because I’m part of a larger narrative. My life is a small blip in the universe and my stories add to the tradition that has lived since we sat around the fire gazing at animated shadows and telling tales. I aim to inspire, provoke discussion, share ideas, share reviews of the amazing books I get to read. Writing keeps the fire going and the stories alive.
When I look at the books on my shelves now, I feel admiration and I feel a part of something – these people were (and some still are) doing exactly what I’m doing – sitting down and writing, putting one word in front of another, agonising over the right word, the best metaphor, the snappiest dialogue. Everything around us is a narrative. That is why we keep telling stories, because stories are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. They are everything from the story you bring back from your holiday, to our life stories. Big or small, they are everywhere.
I write to challenge myself. This novel I’m writing is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had so far, and no doubt there will come moments when I want to set it on fire and walk away, but I won’t. I won’t because I need the challenge. It keeps my brain ticking along and my life purposeful. It reminds me that everything worth doing is hard work. It’s one of those things that you have to really want to do because you need that passion to push through the hard bits.
I have to love the work, love the characters, and love the challenge, to do it. There’s no point writing a novel that you aren’t, on some level, excited about. Some books are painful to write, but they’re still worth writing if you believe they are. It’s the same with non-fiction – write the stories that you have to tell. I’ve written stories before, but I haven’t felt ‘ready’ for the challenge. I am now, because I’ve moved out of my own way.
Most of all, though, I write because I love it.
‘Writing is an encounter — between human flesh, words, grammar, ideas, affects, feelings. There is obviously no right way to write. And yet we know, as both readers and writers, that there are certain ways that work, ways that turn the world on, that take everyone and everything involved on a journey elsewhere — a way that makes writing less a matter of expression and understanding than a matter of discovery and creation.’ – Daniel Coffeen.