“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.” These are the words of Joan Didion, arguably one of the best essayists to ever put down words. This quote has been repeated many times. But I use it here because it’s so true—to some degree—for nearly all of us who write. We write to own our thoughts.
Why do we write? More specifically, why do we bother? It can be laborious work. That too has been repeated so many times in many renditions from many writers. We all know that quote from Hemingway about bleeding at the typewriter. Frankly, that notion—that writing is drudgery—is just not true for most of us Nearly every writer will tell you when things are going well on a story, it is far from painful. It is glorious. Pure pleasure. When it’s not going so well is when writing is true work and there’s at least a bit of bleeding.
There have been many ideas about what motivates great writers to write. Truman Capote said it was about hearing the “inner music that words make.” F. Scott Fitzgerald believed you write not because you “want to say something but because you’ve got something to say.” Each of these suggests a sort of obsession, a visceral need to tell a story.
For me, these comments and all the many that have been shared when I’ve asked the question, why do you write, are really about creative energy, the energy of life. So, why do I write? To feel fully alive. And that seems to say it all.
I asked several writers in the Chicago area to offer their thoughts—Why do you write? Although there is a similar thread weaving through the answers, they also are as varied as the stories we tell.
Rita Dragonette is the author of The Fourteenth of September, a manuscript she’s currently shopping. For Rita writing is about relevance. “Nothing is irrelevant,” she writes in one of her blogs posts. “We are the ancestry.com of our times and to continue to move forward there’s an imperative to connect the dots…”
Sandra Colbert: “I write because I must. Some questions get answers. Some demons purged. And then there is the laughter.”
Barbara Barnett: “I think I write because I have all these stories cluttering my mind. I go to the grocery store, or whatever, and every observation becomes a potential scene or impetus for a new story.”
Lou Holly: “I began writing novels several years ago because I had characters that wouldn’t leave me alone.”
Joyce Pyka: “For therapy…to educate myself and others, to make discoveries about new things, places people and myself.”
Kristin Oakley: “Because my characters get pissed off if I don’t!”
Sandra Tadic: “I write to purge.”
Danielle E. Shipley: “First I wrote for fun. Then I wrote for passion. Now writing has become so much a part of my identity, I wouldn’t know who I am without it.”
Tricia Wagner: “I write because I feel I have more lives to live than the one I was born to.”
Maria Hansburg: “To keep the voices in my head alive!”
Lee Delarm: “I write for two reasons…it feels good…and…because I feel it’s the only way I’m going to have a true legacy behind…even if the books aren’t popular.”
Iris Orpi: “I write to feel powerful again whenever I feel powerless.”
Tamara Gaumond: “It’s cathartic. I have stories to tell and I can live vicariously through my characters.”
Pat Camalliere: “I’ve had a book in my hand practically since the day I was born. It was time to move out of the audience and see what it was like on stage.”
Cynthia Clampitt: “I love ideas. I love words. And I love more than anything else sharing everything I discover with others.”
Tanya Talmadge-Ethridge: “I write for fun, passion, and release.”
Mary Ann D’Alto: “I write for the same reason that I breathe; I simply must. There really is no other answer.”