It’s a question writers often ask, especially when we’re struggling to become a writer, when we don’t know if we are a “real” writer, when we’re trying to figure out all alone with ourselves (which is how writing pretty much always happens) what kind of writer we want to be.
You know those books you buy, about writing? Those encouraging, freeing, lift-you-up kind of books for all those embryonic writers out there — they often start with the question: Why do you want to write? Fame? Fortune? Any realist tosses those two off the table pretty fast. Besides, it’s not nice to say. People don’t want you to say that. Real writers are not in it for the fame or fortune.
There are quotes of famous writers, hell, whole books of famous writers, collected statements of “Why I Write.” Many say things like, “I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I wrote awful poems in high school, hiding them inside my diary, under my mattress, eating them so that no one would know, no one would see. I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen. It was terrible.” Whatever…
Not so, for me. I could never figure out why I wrote, why I wanted to write. Nor why I came to writing so belatedly, why it’s been so hard to give myself permission to write.
Finally I had to decide to throw the question away, even to set my own past aside as irrelevant to the question. I want to write now. And I want to write certain things, but I’ll be damned if I can say what those “things” are in any intelligent (agent-able) way. I finally said, “It doesn’t matter why I want to write (or play the piano, or perform, or … there are other things on this list, all to do with art, but why keep listing them all…an unbrandable brew of loveliness and strange). The why doesn’t matter. I want it, so I will. ’Nuff said.
And then I heard this song. And wept. Because, having given up needing to know why I write, this song informs me exactly: Why I write. Or, as the lyrics go…”why I do the things I do.” (Nevermind that mostly, for these past six decades, I’ve done the things I didn’t want to do … but that’s another song, another story.)
Amanda Palmer, “Judy Blume”
I never read Judy Blume — she was not my generation. But I want to write precisely because of this: to offer these experiences, these humans and advents, with horrors and pains and hopes and lusts and unfathomable strangeness and confusions and missteps and delicious victories and jealousies and twisted disappointments and betrayals and accidents and friendships and collisions and hysteria and deadness and laugh-out-loud ridiculosity and a magical mirror held up to the secret corners that we do not know how to say to one another or even to ourselves.
I don’t know if I’ll ever “succeed”—by which I mean ‘touching you with some shared reality.’ If that ever happens, even a wee bit, then for me the word success can stand without quotation marks, definitional. I may continuously fail and misstep. But trying to make that mirror, cracked and broken if it be—that’s enough meaning for ten lives . . .
It’s why I write.