A couple of weeks ago, I had an assignment for one of my classes where I had to write an essay on why I write. We’d read this beautiful essay by Terry Tempest Williams on the same topic, and I was both scared and inspired. Inspired, because any writer reading that essay would be, and scared, because I felt as if my own reasons for writing were sophomoric and nowhere near as enlightened and emotive as Williams’.
In writing this essay, I learned, not for the first time, to never underestimate my own emotions. Eventually I’ll come to terms with the fact that emotive should’ve been my middle name. Anyway, since this turned out to be something I actually like, I thought I’d post it here.
So, this is why I write.
When I think about why writing is the center of my world, it’s almost ironic that the words that come to mind aren’t my own. The first example is a quote from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, where the protagonist, a writer, is being asked why she writes. In the classroom around her, answers are flying. People are saying many of the same things Williams did in his essay, the kind of poignant and inspired answers you’d expect from fictional undergraduates in creative writing. Her answer, though, is my favorite. She writes to disappear. That’s the best answer I could give, I think. I write because fiction is a portal from this world to another. It’s a way to exist without occupying physical space. I write because it’s a way of being seen without being looked at.
Another example that comes to mind is from Flannery O’Connor: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Writing is the way I compartmentalize everything in my brain. My thoughts are just on automatic direct deposit to a blank Word document. I write because for me, there’s just no other way to process things. There’s no other way to live. What good is pain if we can’t turn it into something new? That’s what writing is, pain recycling.
Despite the pain, the real reason that I write is because I can’t not. It’s a compulsion, a required part of my day like sleeping or breathing. When I don’t write, I experience what Edgar Allan Poe would call “periods of horrible sanity.” I’m not me if I don’t write. I’m not human. I’m not sure writers are all human in the first place, there’s at least part of our brains or souls that live floating in the cosmos somewhere. That’s another reason I write, to connect with the part of me that isn’t rooted in the Earth.
I write because there’s a power in fiction that I’ve never felt in anything else. I write because I read “Annabell Lee” in eighth grade and I haven’t been the same since. I write because it’s the closest thing to magic that I, a mere mortal, have ever felt. It’s the ability to change the world with just clicks of your fingertips against computer keys. It’s wanting to pull out your hair, and lying on the floor just to watch the ceiling fan turn, and remembering every sound and smell. It’s visceral, and horrible, and painful. It’s sitting in front of a notebook and letting yourself bleed. Writing is physical silence and emotional negative space. It’s a kind of pain you want to stay in forever.
I write because writing is as much a part of me as anything else. In the same way that I’m a daughter, a sister, and a friend, I’m a writer. Success or failure, laughing or weeping, brave or cowardly, no matter what, that’s something that will never change. Someone who knew both writing and death all too well, Ernest Hemingway, said it best: “Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.”