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Why we write?


It is almost midday, and I am sitting in the bed, notebook in hand, staring out of the window. My heart is filled with gloom. I have an article to write but nothing comes out. I have become dependent on pouring out my heart at times like these but writing for my blog is another matter.

Sometimes we forget why we write.

We write for the same reasons we read. C.S. Lewis said,“We read to know that we are not alone.”

When in despair or in doubt, I often reach for books to find answers. Invariably I get then. The same happened today. I picked up a book by my bedside and randomly opened a page. Following words spring up. 

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it……Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaningless itself.” 

— Joan Didion, A Year of Magical Thinking

As I read these words my heart filled with gratitude. 

Thank you Joan Didion for writing these words. You have put into words what I was feeling. Your words not only provided me comfort but helped me understand what I was going through. A grief of my own.

Here is a list of reasons why we write. 


We write to find comfort.

Life is hard and written words provide relief. Some of us discover very early in our lives that books can provide solace at times when nothing else can. There comes the time when just reading can’t carry us through, and it is then we discover writing.

When Isabel Allende’s daughter died after being in a coma for several months, she couldn’t handle the grief. For months, she started in a vacuum not knowing how to come out of this hole. Until her mother gave her a pen, a pad, and an ultimatum.

My daughter, Paula. died on December 6, 1992. On January 7, 1993, my mother said, “Tomorrow is January eight. If you don’t write, you’re going to die.”

She gave me the 180 letters I’d written to her while Paula was in a coma, and then she went to Macy’s. When my mother came back six hours later, I was in a pool of tears, but I’d written the first pages of Paula.

— Isabel Allende in Why We Write?

We write because it is who we are.

Everyone sees the world differently. Writers see the world in words. Many writers claim they can’t survive if they don’t write.

David Baldacci said, “If writing were illegal, I’d be in prison. I can’t not write. It is a compulsion.”

For me too, writing has become a compulsion. I have to write each day. My day starts with writing and ends with writing. If I can’t write any day it feels like a wasted day.

What is it about writing that makes it — for some of us — as necessary as breathing?

It is in the thousands of days of trying, failing, sitting, thinking, resisting, dreaming, raveling, unraveling that we are at our most engaged, alert, and alive.

Time slips away. The body becomes irrelevant. We are as close to consciousness itself as we will ever be.

This begins in the darkness. Beneath the frozen ground, buried deep below anything we can see, something may be taking root.

Stay there, if you can. Don’t resist. Don’t force it, but don’t run away.

Endure.

Be patient. The rewards cannot be measured. Not now. But whatever happens, any writer will tell you: This is the best part.

— Dani Shapiro in Still Writing

We write because we want to make a difference.

How many times have you heard people exclaiming, this book changed my life. You yourself might have felt the same way. Not just the books but — articles, personal stories, observations, insights — all have the power to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Even though we may not intentionally set out to make a difference, our words have profound power. Just think the Greta Thunberg’s speech on climate change or Amanda Gorman’s speech on the inauguration day. Did they make a difference?

Sometimes it is just a tiny little difference.

When my parents were still alive I started collecting their stories and stories of their parents. Recently I compiled them, put them in a private blog, and gave the link to my children, nephews, and nieces. Migrated to Australia as kids they were losing connection with the land where their grandparents lived all their lives. Stories I compile gave them their roots.

I write memoirs because I have a passionate desire to be of even the tiniest bit of help.

I like to write about the process of healing, of developing, of growing up, of becoming who we were born to be instead of who we always agreed to be.

It’s sort of a missionary thing, to describe one person’s interior, and to say we’re probably raised not to think this or say it, but actually, all of us feel it and have gone through it, and we all struggle with it.

I feel like it’s a gift I have to offer to people, to say, “This is what it’s like for me, who you seem to like or trust.

We’re all like this. We’re all ruined. We’re all loved. We all feel like victims, we all feel better than.”

— Anne Lamott in Why We Write About Ourselves

We write to be heard.

There is a common perception that writers write to make money. To make a name for themselves. Nothing can be far from the truth. We write because we want to be heard.

We write the thing that we can’t say. We write to express feelings that are hard to say verbally. We write to tell our stories. And of those whose stories must be told.

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.

— Audre Lorde, author poet.

We write so that we can live.

Writing is a way to cope with the atrocities of life. The more life got harder, the more the heartache and pain became unbearable, the more I write.

It was some of my greatest, deepest writing. I reflected on life, relationships, and letting go. I honestly don’t think I would have survived this last week if I had not been writing. I wrote for myself.

We write to make sense of this world.

Sometimes this world we live in doesn’t make sense at all. When ugly things happen, writing becomes a tool to make sense of it. 

To understand the world, we first need to understand ourselves. We need to bare our souls to tell the story we want to tell. 

Writing about trauma is more than simply documenting experience — it’s about illuminating life on earth. It’s about transforming tragedy into art, and hoping that somehow that piece of art may help someone else who’s gone through something unbearable and who doesn’t yet see that there truly is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

— Tracy Strauss

We write to find beauty.

Writing helps us go deep. And like gold, you got to move several tons of earth to find the nuggets. 

Writers are philosophers in making, always trying to figure out the meaning in everyday happenings. Our role is to hold the magnifying glass and enlarge whatever we are focusing on. 

Our job is to find hope where there is none, to find meaning where it doesn’t make sense, to find beauty where ugliness surrounds us.

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened, and its deepest mystery probed? … Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaning, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

— Anne Dillard in The Writing Life

We write to give a gift.

When we write our stories with honesty and generosity about our lives and meticulous care for our craft, we are giving the world a gift. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best as we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story… And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or conflict. And that is why we write.

— Neil Gaiman

We write so that we can listen.

Writing is a way to listen better. Every time, I transcribe a podcast or a video I discover things I had missed while listening to it. 

I have a weird habit. I write down things people say to me. Those little snippets carry a different meaning on paper than they did verbally. The act of writing those words makes connections and brings out related stories. Even the hidden meanings.

I write because it is while I’m writing that I feel most connected to why we’re here. I write because silence is a heavyweight to carry. I write to remember. I write to heal. I write to let the air in. I write as a practice of listening.

— Andrea Gibson

We write to create order out of chaos.

When I wasn’t writing, I was reading. And when I wasn’t writing or reading, I was staring out the window, lost in thought. Life was elsewhere — I was sure of it — and writing was what took me there. In my notebooks, I escaped an unhappy and lonely childhood. I tried to make sense of myself. I had no intention of becoming a writer. I didn’t know that becoming a writer was possible. Still, writing was what saved me. It presented me with a window into the infinite. It allowed me to create order out of chaos.

— Dani Shapiro in Still Writing

Photo by Tessa Wilson on Unsplash

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