Why I Write

Remember when I said that I’d be following up with Day 2 of John Saddington’s 10 Days to a Better Blog? Well, here’s that post. I fell behind and now I’m finishing the 10 Days.

Today’s assignment is about why I write, as you might have guessed by the title. Writing has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember. I could say the reason why I write is just that, but recently I have started to reassess why I write and that also includes what it means, for myself, to be a writer. Note that, in this context, writing refers to creative writing.

A long while ago (at least a couple years ago now), I wrote a post with a similar theme but never published it – in it, I expressed part of why I write, quoting Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: 

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

In that unpublished post, I describe how I found my answer – that I must write – and now, for this post, I will answer why must I write?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember, since I was a child; I still have all of my childhood writings. I may not be able to read them easily, but I cherish them all the same. Why must I write? The short answer is, I must write because that is what I’ve always wanted to do and it is what I, as a child, dreamed my grown-up self would do one day. The shorter answer is that I like telling stories. If I didn’t write, I know I would regret it for the rest of my life.

The long answer is that, in addition to it being my childhood dream to be a writer, I have come to realize that writers inherently possess great responsibility – whether we realize it or not, and whether we choose to accept it or not. Some writers might even argue that we don’t hold any responsibility at all; we are simply vessels. Even if we are vessels, I believe that it is still our responsibility to choose what we decide to carry forth into the world as what we write can having a lasting impact, for good or bad.

Perhaps my sense of duty as a writer is best expressed by these two quotes, the first by E.B. White:

I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

The second quote is by Kurt Vonnegut, regarding the role of writers in society, and that is still relevant today,

It’s only recently that I’ve come to understand that writers are not marginal to our society, that they, in fact, do all our thinking for us, that we are writing myths and our myths are believed, and that old myths are believed until someone writes a new one.

[…]

I think writers should be more responsible than they are, as we’ve imagined for a long time that it really doesn’t matter what we say. I also often have First-Amendment schizophrenia — there’s a lot that I wish wasn’t popular and in circulation, I think there is a lot of damaging material in circulation… I think it’s a beginning for authors to acknowledge that they are myth-makers and that if they are widely read, will have an influence that will last for many years — I don’t think that there’s a strong awareness of that now, and we have such a young culture that there is an opportunity to contribute wonderful new myths to it, which will be accepted.

(I have a responsibility of the writer tag on Tumblr, too.)

I’m honest when I say that why I write is also for myself, an answer common for many writers. When I am done writing, though, I want to, naturally, share it with other people and thus it is my duty, my responsibility, as a writer to choose what I write about. I am not worried about what other people will think but that, if books allow an author to speak, quoting Carl Sagan, “clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you,” I want to choose what conversations I’ll be having with that person who is reading what I’ve written. I don’t mean I want to control whether a person agrees or disagrees with me, or whether they’ll like what I’ve written, but to acknowledge that what I write can and will influence them and that I would rather lift someone up than bring them down.

In conclusion, I will always write, because it is not just what I do but it is part of who I am.

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