Why I Write

I just read the final words of a wonderful book. It could have been the last sentences of many, many wonderful books that have sparked a new fire in me, but this time it was Patti Smith’s Devotion, a short, soulful work on writing, the process of creation, and the call from something heavenly that turns the pen to write. 
There is now for me, as Patti writes, a “call to action” and a certain “hubris to believe I can answer the call.”

Patti Smith, Courtesy Miami Book Fair
This is what great works do. They ignite.
When I was the writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac house in   Orlando, working in the same room where he clanked out on his old manual typewriter the first draft of The Dharma Bums,  I was overcome daily with the urge to rush into that bedroom space and inhale the DNA left behind, to ingest the mystical powers of the art of creation. 
In the attic space at the Ernest Hemingway birthplace home in Oak Park, Illinois, where I was honored to take on the duties of the foundation’s writer-in-residence, I again was compelled to write, to accept a great artist’s energy, and try to convert it into my own.
Kerouac’s Orlando Home

So why do I write? To be like them? To copy? To emulate? To steal the light of their brilliance? No, it is not this. Instead, I write to be bigger than myself, to create something fine and layered in meaning, to discover what the greats had, what they found so unforgiving, so necessary a task. I write because there is no other way to exist. I write to resolve some phrase that needs care, to adjust a sorry sack of words into enduring sentences, memorable prose or poetry that will hang just above the moon to shine a soft light on what gazes below it, who wishes on a star. I write to discover, to illuminate, to wander and to wonder. I write not to mimic the greats but to become who I am through them. They are necessary, they are inspirations, they are godlike, but they are only images, reflections, monuments to what I strive to do every single day—write.

Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed in Wales

In my writing shed, my modest 8X10 studio on the property where I live, I keep an original watercolor of Dylan Thomas’ boathouse. On the wall, I will soon hang a sketch of Albert Camus by artist Nick Young. And I’m planning to print a photo of the Kerouac home in Florida where I lived for that glorious summer and tack it to the planked wall.

L’Algerien by Nick Young

Each is a reminder to create something worthy of sharing, to write as one must in order to do far more than, as Patti Smith wrote, “simply live.”

Why do you write? Why and how does it call you—that muse, that mysterious whispering spirit?

5 thoughts on “Why I Write

  1. Many thanks for including my drawing of Camus. Now to the question: I create to find insight and in so doing hope that others sense it, too. The process (and as I often do, I'll turn to Zen) is striving for as little explication as possible . . . to suggest, to point the way. The best haiku achieves it, as does a form of Japanese painting known as sumi-e. I've done quite a bit of art over the past ten years. Many pieces have involved a lot of time and no shortage of blood and tears; yet the one piece I'm as proud of as any other is a simple line drawing of a sailboat executed with a ballpoint pen in fewer than ten seconds on a piece of scrap paper in a radio studio about ten years ago. There is a perfection of SPIRIT in it that I've been hard-pressed to duplicate. The beauty of it lies in the no-thought involved . . . just the doing.


  2. Beautiful, Nick. Makes me think aboutKerouac’s stream-of-experience writing. Do it; write it. Although some of this is myth with Kerouac, much of his writing is based on the doing and not thinking so much.


  3. Mari – Well said, right? And I always loved this quote from Harper Lee: “Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s