Chuck Wendig sets his readers weekly writing challenges. This week’s challenge was to write an essay on why you write. To me, this is one of the most challenging writing assignments I have ever been set. While I pride myself on being highly self-aware, I’m also very good at ignoring or overlooking troubling aspects of my personality and mind. But why should looking at the reasons behind why I write be so troubling to me? I am constantly conflicted about writing. I feel the need to do it. It can bring me joy but it also causes me incalculable pain. And yet I push on, I keep writing. I have to…
So why do I write? Compulsion. Masochism. Insanity.
Any writer’s relationship to writing is complex, mine is downright destructive (at times). I hang almost all of my self-esteem (present and future) on writing while constantly berating myself for my perceived lack of talent and success. But that goalpost of ‘success’ constantly moves, I’m never happy with where I end up. If I achieve one goal, I immediately set another without ever stopping to take the time to appreciate what I’ve accomplished so far.
I am not alone in feeling this way. Many writers do. I’m sure there are writers out there that are by no means as tortured about their chosen career/hobby/passion. Someone must love writing, purely for writing’s sake. But that person isn’t me.
I have always felt a need to write. As a small child I would write stories; stories where my cat was magical or about the haunted trampoline in my backyard. I even bound and illustrated a few of them. Having an active imagination is one of the best things an only child can have, but I started to be overwhelmed by all the fiction in my head. I had to get them down on paper, make sense of them somehow, and share them – maybe then, people might have some hope of ‘getting’ me.
As I aged, the imagination stuck around. In fact, it got worse. The reality of life around me was never enough. I had to invent wonderful and horrible events that were in our near future, being both a panic merchant as well as creating an idealized, unattainable version of my future. Life never measured up to the one I could invent in my head. Again, I needed to get it down on paper – if it wasn’t going to happen in real life I at least didn’t want to forget the fiction of it.
The self-esteem of it all
My self-esteem became wrapped up in my writing. I suppose that’s normal – we all have our strengths and weaknesses, our passions and hobbies, and we have to get our validation from somewhere. Writing was what I did and I desperately wanted to be good at it. But what if others didn’t think I was any good? What if I worked and worked at it and never improved? But success as a writer is a difficult thing to measure. Most writers aren’t able to live off their fiction-writing full time, even many of my favourite current writers don’t have that luxury. So what does that success look like for me? What do I need to achieve to be happy with myself? Something that is certainly not easily done – to be published, find critical acclaim, and commercial success. I don’t ask for much, do I?
And until then, or if I never get there… I’ll beat myself up about not being good enough, but masochistic tendencies will keep pushing me. So I keep writing.
The joy of writing
Perhaps I’ve outlined a very negative idea of writing and have you asking, ‘geez, why does this girl even bother? It sounds like hell.’ That’s not an entirely fair representation. When I get into the flow of writing, there is nothing I love better. When my fingers fly across the keyboard, there is no freer or more satisfying feeling in the world. But this is real life. A lot of a writer’s life involves staring at a blank page, wondering how to rework a piece to find the gem you’re convinced is in there somewhere, or even forcing yourself to write when you just can’t be bothered. The key thing to remember is to look back on what you have achieved – and if you do work at it, you will achieve something. And that feeling is amazing.
Your writing, whether intended for an audience or not, is also the one place you can be unequivocally yourself. Explore any ideas you want and create any strange and wonderful characters. There are no limits on what you can do in writing. No laws to break, no real world consequences to your characters’ actions. Whatever world you create is completely free – any rules are of your own creation. That power and control is intoxicating and something none of us will ever know in real life (unless you manage to be the supreme world leader, and if so, can I be your right hand woman?).
So why do I write? I love to explore the unexplored and potentially unexplorable. If it can’t happen in my real world, it’s still possible in my fictional one. Writing is freedom.