Ask a writer why they write and you’ll get a thousan answers or at least a thousand essays. I’ve written nearly that many responses to this age-old question since I started writing as a hobby maybe 20 years ago.
I’m taking a revision class right now and our instructor had us warm up by reading two famous responses to Why I Write? We read what Joan Didion had to say. She was actually responding to what George Orwell said, so we also read that.
If you had asked me before that night, I would have said I agreed with Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Then we had about 15 minutes to draft our own short response. After reading my response and a few more from famous writers, I feel a little bit like Nicol Krauss:
“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s something to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about.”Nicole Krauss
And a little bit like Chuck Palahniuk:
“That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. You can’t control life, at least you can control your version.”Chuck Palahniuk
Why I Write
by Catherine Lanser
I write because things come out easier on paper than they do with my vocal cords. I’ve never figured out how to delete words that have been spoken like I can cross words out on paper.
That is if anyone can even hear what you say. When I was growing up around a crowded kitchen table, my voice wasn’t even loud enough to rise above the din. I might want to add something, but it was easier to whisper to myself rather than strain my voice to be heard. Instead of talking, I read the words on the containers set on the table.
K-R-A-F-T. K-R-A-F-T. K-R-A-F-T
“What did you say?”
All the eyes around the oval table turned to me. I stopped whispering.
“What did you say? Were you spelling something? Say it again.”
“K-R-A-F-T,” I said.
“She just spelled her first word!”
It was remarkable. I was the star for a second. It was quiet and everyone listened.
Though, I didn’t start writing for years after, when I did start writing, that was the feeling I chased. I wanted the world to read my words and be stunned. To stop and listen to their importance.
But it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t how it was going to work. If I wrote for the adoration of the reader, I wouldn’t be writing for long. Instead, I needed to write for myself. I needed to write to tell myself how it really was. It didn’t matter if no one was going to listen. I knew my voice still mattered. On the page, I couldn’t be crowded out.