If you asked a dozen writers why they write, chances are at least 85% of them would answer . . . “Because I can’t not write.” Another 13% would probably give the same basic answer, only stated a little differently . . .
“I write for love of the art.”
“I write because I love words.”
“I write . . . because I am.”
All legitimate answers I suppose, but I have to admit the 85 percenter always baffled me. I mean I understand it intellectually. A person is so filled with the need to express themselves through the written word that they don’t truly feel complete unless and until they do write. I get it. But I think I’m too pragmatic to feel comfortable saying it. To me, I can NOT write, just like I can NOT bathe, shave my legs, pay taxes, wash dishes, or drive within the speed limit if I so choose. The only thing I can’t not do is live forever.
As for the last response I noted above, the “I write . . . because I am” thing, I really don’t get that one at all. The first time I heard someone give that answer—her chin raised, head tilted at a haughty angle, no doubt— I had to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, “Because you ‘am’ . . . what? Snooty?” I know, I know, nasty thought. But I still think I deserve kudos for keeping my mouth shut.
What I truly find interesting are the answers from the last 2% of writers. They’re so varied and often hilariously, brutally honest, that I can’t help but feel a kinship to them. Some of their answers to the age-old question, “Why do you write?” include:
A shrug, followed by —Silence
—“Hell if I know.”
—“I just sorta fell into it.”
—“Beats tarring roofs.”
—“Because I’m a masochist?”
We all have a reason for doing what we do, no matter how schmaltzy, haughty, or funny that ‘why’ might be. Mine, for example, is a hodge-podge of reasons. I do believe writing is an art form, and I do love words, so much so I used to read the dictionary for fun when I was a kid. But the roots of why I write usually meander through the silent shrug, hell, falling, roofs, and masochism. Add to that mix the love of storytelling, and my why usually felt spot on. Until now that is.
Last week I received a note from an Indie store owner in California that not only left me speechless, it immediately redefined and clarified my WHY. The note’s below. (For anonymity’s sake, I changed the name.)
“Deb, one of my regulars came in a couple of days ago to pick up the book you signed at the mass in-store signing. He said he corresponds with you once in a while online, and his name is Sam Jones. Between you and I it was his chemo day and he was really weak and he was picking up the book to get his mind off of his illness. I have no idea whether or not he wants you to know. My personal belief is that he is dying of cancer and you are a light in his darkness.”
How could a note like that NOT change or clarify a writer’s why? Mine did a one-eighty and became Windex clear. Now whenever someone asks, “Deborah, why do you write?” my answer is simply . . .
“To make a difference.”