Why do Writers Write?
I’ve often asked myself why. Why do I do this? Why do you do this? Why do we spend hours every day – or most days – engaging with the blank screen or blank page and labouring to produce words – words with meaning, emotion, information? Words.
And why words? Why not knit, draw, bake, garden, make model planes, breed dogs, or even just do a nine to five Monday to Friday job with a salary you KNOW is going into the bank on a set date, then go home each day and barbecue some steaks or sit in front of the TV or go to a nice restaurant with your family?
I used to think it was just because I was screwed up. Or because I was an only child and not used to company or because I had to make my own entertainment, or because putting my thought-words into actual vocalised words was hard. Part of me still thinks this might be true. Even though I have a family, I’m still a very solitary person. I don’t mean to be, I don’t even like to be alone that much, but it’s a kind of a habit, I’m used to it.
But that isn’t the whole reason. And I suspect (haven’t actually checked!) that there are a number of sociable writers out there from large, boisterous families, writers who enjoy engaging with others. So why do they write?
When asked why as a mother of a growing family, she had stopped writing, Winifred Watson, author of the wonderful ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’, said “you can’t write if you’re never alone.” Watson was a hugely popular author in the 1930s and very successful, but now she is almost unknown. If she wrote purely for personal fulfilment, then once she was married and raising a family, I can understand that the need to write may have gone, or been satisfied in domesticity. But for myself and for many writers, I still don’t think this is the whole story.
There is something about creating another world, something about purging myself of all those words that need to be put onto paper. But it’s not just about escaping reality, not just about unburdening oneself. Yes, it is often – but not always – a compulsion. There is an urge to create in an abstract way sometimes, a need to make something with your mind, your hands and then be able to step back and think, ‘yes, I did that’.
There is also a desire to communicate with others. Often as writers we wonder if other people – our readers – will see and understand the message we are seeking to bring to them, and if they will see it in the same way that we see it. Often they do not, and they find something new in our words. Literary Criticism shows that reading is an active process as is perception, and that there are many ‘truths’ hidden in a text.
One well-known writer whose name escapes me at the moment said, when asked why she wrote, said that the question should really be, “why doesn’t everyone?”
The jury is still out on this question. I think it may be one of those how-long-is-a-piece-of-string type questions. So I will close with a quote from a book that has been the most influential on my writing career: Dorothea Brande, whose book ‘Becoming A Writer’ was published in 1924, said this: “A Writer writes”.