Why do we write?

It’s a question I’ve thought about a lot and one I’ve asked here before. I always come back to the same answer:

I write because life is more meaningful when I do.

As August begins—and on a Monday (!), which adds an extra oomph to the feeling of starting anew—we can pay attention this month to how we feel 1) when we write, 2) when we have written, and, perhaps most important, 2) when we have not written. This summer I’m working on strengthening my commitment to a life spent writing, with a goal to write 500 new words per day, and here’s what I’m finding: On those days when I don’t write, I go to bed feeling worse than on the days when I do, regardless of what else happens during the day.

Photo credit: Denise Krebs, 2012-259 A Writing Six-Word Story, (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Denise Krebs,2012-259 A Writing Six-Word Story, (CC BY 2.0)

This is the part that has surprised me the most: the feeling of well-being (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with what I’ve written, what genre or topic, whether it is for publication or just for myself, or even whether what I wrote was any good. It depends only on accepting the challenge of the blank page. Somehow the very act of writing makes me feel more myself, more authentic, more grounded, and better able to tackle the rest of what life offers.

J. K. Rowling offers a clue as to why this may be the case in her 2008 Harvard Commencement speech (video at end of post):

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” ~ J. K. Rowling [emphasis added]

In order to grasp fully Rowling’s decision at that point in her life, we need to allow our imaginations to go back in time before the world had heard the words “Harry Potter” (difficult, I know). When she committed herself to writing as a way to be who she was and to do work that mattered to her, it was not with the guarantee or perhaps even dream that she would create a cast of characters and books that would define a generation. That wasn’t the point at all—the success was only a byproduct. The turning point was that she fully accepted that she was born to be a writer and changed her life to be more in line with that realization.

What will it take for us to stop pretending to be anything but who we are, and to start directing energy into what really matters to us? What does that mean for your daily life?

The topic for Wednesday’s post will be social media, especially the idea of taking a social media sabbatical. Until then, I’d love to hear why you write.

See also

The Purpose of Your Writing Life