This week’s challenge from Chuck Wendig isn’t about fiction at all! This week, he asked people to write 1000 words about why they write. I took about that many words to think it through. Some of my answer feels final, some of it doesn’t, and I’m sure there’s more to be said. But my response begins below…
Why do I write?
That question makes me uneasy. I don’t feel like I have a good answer to it, or maybe it’s that the answer I do have isn’t “good.” Part of the answer is very simple:
I find it rewarding when other people like the stories I tell and, for one reason or another, I have come to believe that I can tell enjoyable stories somewhat reliably. I therefore want to tell stories and share them with people in order to trigger that reward, which makes myself feel better. The experience of having people enjoy my work is, quite honestly, the best drug I’ve ever tried. Sadly, I also appear to be developing a tolerance for it.
Relatedly, there is another part of me which believes that my desire to reward myself through telling stories other people like is too inherently selfish to possibly be okay; thus, this part of me believes I should find something else to do with my life that will be more altruistic and better for the world as a whole. It’s a little weird that I should identify a desire to tell stories that other people will enjoy as inherently selfish, but I somehow forged that connection years ago and I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to change it now. Maybe some day.
So, if it’s telling stories that I love, why write?
I think I settled on writing as a useful way of telling stories that I can share with more people. I also think I fixated on writing from a young age, seeing it as a way to access magic to some extent. I remember labeling my computer lab typing practice file “Spellbook.” I remember my brothers and my mother reading books to me when I was little, while I marveled both at the tales they told me and at the fact that they could pull those stories from a book. I remember using books in my make-believe games, pulling one off the shelf (it didn’t really matter what book it was) and “reading” from it to tell us what we needed to know or to lend authority to myself.
Honestly, I never stopped playing make-believe. I just got sad that other people stopped wanting to play make-believe with me.
There’s also a part of me that revels in seeing a thing that I made, a story, a book, a memory… and writing helps to make that experience physical, more real and immediate than hearing that people still talk about, and tell their own stories about, a story that I told. Though I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find that pretty damn rewarding. It’s still, as I said, the best drug I’ve ever tried.
Partly, I write because it’s one of the few ways I’ve found to really explore the inner recesses of my head. When I’m feeling muddled or confused, or when I just want to sit down and think something through, I do it by writing, having a conversation with myself that I can document as I go. Similarly, those people who claim that all characters in a story are really just the author are both right and wrong; some bits and pieces of them are me, some are other people that I’ve met and seen, and some bits and pieces are just things that I’ve imagined. And I have no idea how well I can puzzle out which bits are which reliably. But I sure can conjure them and squish them all together in interesting ways. Usually.
Which brings me to writing so that I can be better at writing. I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that people can like what I write despite my own dislike for or dissatisfaction with the story. But even so, I still want the stories that I write to be good. I want them to make people want more. I want them to make me want more. Unless I wrote a piece knowing that I wanted that to be the end of things, I’m usually a bit disappointed to come to the end and discover that I don’t want to hear more. I feel like I’ve really done my job when I get to the end and say, “Yeah, that was awesome, and now it’s done. I can’t wait to hear the next one.”
I write because sometimes, at the oddest times, totally awesome shit pops into my head. It’s been doing that for years, and I’ve never found a way to turn it on or turn it off. I find it deeply disappointing to have one of those ideas and then know that I’ve lost it when I come back for it later, so I try to write it down. Similarly, I’ve never really stopped telling stories. Even when I’ve been at my most lonely, without other people to tell stories to or ways to share the stories I want to tell, I still keep getting ideas. Sometimes they stew for years before they’re borne into the light of day.
I write because things I never expected or always wanted to see end up pouring themselves onto the page. Like with my favorite moments in role-playing games, sometimes the scenes that I write are also the same scenes that I’d most like to see shared with the whole wide world, better than any of the other stories’ scenes that I usually see out there. They come out in my writing, or in the middle of telling a story with my friends, and I have the good fortune of experiencing them firsthand. Editing them is less fun, but can still be rewarding.
So. Why do I write? I write for myself, I write for others. It’s a muddled mess. But I write because I don’t want to imagine not writing, and because sometimes? Sometimes it’s amazing.