My favourite word guru Chuck Wendig posed a challenge to his writerly blog followers to answer the question: “Why I Write”. This came out of me.
Why I Write — Today’s Answer
There’s this song I like, “Born With A Sound” by The New Pornographers. In it, vocalist Daniel Bejar repeatedly laments “I had a sound in my head, but I couldn’t find the words to get it out. Now I know love is the way. Get it out. Get it out.” It’s nothing fancy, but I adore these lyrics, because they remind me of my own feelings about writing.
Sometimes, often out of frustration, I ask myself “Why do I write?” The cheeky answer I give myself is that it’s because I can’t sing or paint. In many ways, it’s the truth. The images, characters, and words that spin around in my brain need to get out. This is true of all humans, whether we call ourselves artists or not. The funny, scary, beautiful stuff that grows in our imagination is never exactly the same as the melodies, sculptures or sonnets they ride to get out of brains, but without that artistic vehicle, they’re nothing. In my brain, those ideas take the “writing” road, because — though I have to work at it every single day — this is mode of creation that’s been my thing ever since I was wee. Some inborn love of reading, making, saying, playing with words, is what gives all those goopy ideas in my skull some shape. Writing is a necessity.
Often I think the ideas I have would be better expressed in song, or some gigantic art installation, or made into the wickedest film the world has ever seen, but I don’t have any innate skills in those areas. And yeah, any “talent” is really a combination of natural ability and a whole lot of practice, so maybe I could learn to paint. Some people are gifted in a whole whack of creative arts. I admire them up the wazoo for being able to throw all that creative energy into so many different cakes. For me, it all tends to get dumped in the word batter.
One of my favourite writers, George Orwell, answered this “Why I write”question three decades before I was born. It’s a brilliant and funny piece of writing, and also more than a little humbling. He asserts that all writers do what they do out of some combination of 1) Sheer egoism; 2) Aesthetic enthusiasm; 3) Historical impulse and 4) Political purpose. When I first read this I, of course, thought “Pshaw! I don’t write to be clever and impressive! It’s #2 all the way baby….I live for the artistic pleasure of it.” But, I’m honest enough with myself to say that, yeah, of course I write to be read and to impress the people who read what I write. Narcissistic? Sure, but it can also make us all better writers. Hopefully. What’s the point of writing if there isn’t someone there to enjoy and connect with it?
Behind that ego though, behind the need to spew it out, fueling the creative juices, I think there’s a mystical soup brewing. About a year ago, I pondered the “Why Do I Write” Q on this blog, and then, I said:
“Words are for me, both in creation and consumption, an amazing route to bliss. If I am inspired, I want to inspire. If I am moved, I want to move. It’s contagious. Or at least I hope it can be. It’s not an intellectual pursuit. It’s a soul pursuit.”
A year later, I still agree with me. And Orwell. And Bejar. And probably all the other writers who will take up Chuck’s challenge today to navel gaze on their own art. Tomorrow, or five years from now, I might have a different answer. It’s not an easy question, but it’s a great one to ponder.