Why Do We Write?

Be A Novelist Yelling on Paper

H. L. Mencken referred to a writer as an individual “in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper.”

Hm. Not sure if Mencken’s thought pattern is running true to course for the majority of writers. But that’s his opinion. He assumes that every writer writes simply to feed his or her vanity.

Reading Our Work

Late in life when E.B. White’s eyes were failing, a friend offered to read to him. When asked what he would like to have read, he chose his own works. Then he said, “I have always been aware that I am by nature self-absorbed and egotistical.”

I remember a few years ago, I embarked on a project of reading through each one of my past published novels. I never even thought about doing it because of my ego. I did it 1) because I wanted to remember… and 2) because I think they’re great stories. If that’s egotistical, then so be it.

But back to the title of this blog post. Why do authors write?

Pay Back Time

Some will admit they write so they can pay back all those people who told them they couldn’t write. Or told them that they would never amount to anything.

John Grisham is one of those. He admitted that in his novels he was getting back at “lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors, and politicians. I just lineBe A Novelist ‘em up and shoot ‘em.”

Many novelists lived the life of the misfit throughout their school years. They were the quiet introvert-type. That station in life pretty much set them up for living the solitary existence of an author. But still and yet, is that the answer to the why question?

Off the Top of My Head

Perhaps I have never dug down deeply enough. Or more probably, I never particularly cared about why I write. But if I were to answer the question off the top of my head – without being philosophical – I would say I write because I love to write. Simple as that. I love to write both my own stuff and to create writing projects for others (freelance writing). There’s nothing I would rather do with my life than to spend most of the hours of every day writing.

Quickly on the heels of that, I would answer the why question by saying “I love stories. I love story telling.”

I derive great satisfaction from plotting, developing, structuring, producing, creating a novel-length story. It feeds my very soul.

Pretty  simple; not very deep.

Oh, and “yelling on paper” is not on my list.

What would you say? How would you answer?


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12 thoughts on “Why Do We Write?

  1. Steven Meredith

    To be honest, the older I get the less I can put a finger on why I write. I’m sure in my youth I wanted to be the next Stephen King or write Jaws or something. Now I can seem to be able to stop…I’m not even sure I actually enjoy it that much any more…perhaps it’s a mental illness of some kind.

  2. Philip Snow

    The only reason I can imagine to write is to add meaning to life! Whether deluded or not….
    When I think of ‘great’ writers like Henry James et al – well, it might be ‘great’ writing, technically spikking, but….tedious! But then being a brain-addled child of Les Sixties, we thought Jacky Kerouac, Joseph Heller & J P Donleavy were ‘great’ writers! But then they had a lot to say about the disintegration of civilisation – and how to eclectically assist that sinking.
    So now we are cataloguing the Fall of the Final Curtain, so there’s lots to say about that of course.
    Let’s say it with style – but not at the expense of content.

  3. Elisa Christensen

    I write for the same reason the artist paints, the singer sings or the actor acts: to create beauty, to add to the canvas of our world a stroke of color, a splash of flavor, a melody to words. I write to feed my soul. In many ways it is a selfish endeavor. I write for others, indeed, but the materials that I actually put out to the world are the ones that, when I read them back over, move me to tears, to laughter, to deeper thought, to stronger emotion. My writing is sometimes a broad brushstroke designed to move the human spirit, and at other times a narrow pinpoint to invoke a question or more importantly, a new consideration of a familiar thought. I write because I can, because it moves me, which is the same reason I read, and because in my own, small way, I hope to bring change to this vast world. I write to ensure that somehow, however small, I have created an impact in a meaningful, memorable way.

  4. John Arthur Robinson

    I write(1) because I enjoy writing the words that flow in the rivers of my mind and (2) because I need attention. I need to be noticed, and my writing GETS me noticed! My blog has over 800 followers.

  5. Bobbi Linkemer

    It sounds like a cliche to say I write because I must. I am addicted to writing, and it is a 48-year addiction so far. It certainly beats other things I might be hooked on. Writing has gotten me through all the tough times in my life; it has supported me financially, though not always in the style I would have wished for; it has educated and inspired me; and, most important, it has made it possible for me to help other writers write.


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