|“Don’t write because you want to. Write because you must.”|
One day, a young man came to his local writer-in-residence. His arms were full of papers. His face was strained with anxiety. He stuttered at the door, barely able to speak.
The writer smiled and welcomed him. She had seen these sort before. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
The young man laid out his treasure on the desk and stepped back. “I’m wondering if I could get your opinion. These are some pieces of mine. Poetry. And some scenes from a book I’m writing. The thing is…well, I’m taking a degree in Creative Writing, you know, and the Professor seems to like it. She says I’ve got talent. I’m even getting a piece published in the school paper. The thing is, I’ve got this terrible feeling, every time I write, that it’s no good. No good at all. Besides that, my parents are worried I won’t make any money as a writer. I like to write. I really do. But what do you think? Is it good enough? Will people like it?”
The writer gently lifted up the stack of papers. She read the piece on the top. Then she read another piece. And another. After a few moments of agony, the young man leaned forward. “Well? What do you think?”
The writer nodded. “These are good. It’s a start. But that’s not the question you need to ask.”
“What do I need to ask?”
“A writer doesn’t write because they’re good at it, because someone said they had talent, or because they hope to get rich. They don’t even write because they want to.”
“Then why do they do it?” the young man asked, perplexed.
“Exactly,” the writer said. “Because they must.”
This is a little short I did for an Instagram writing prompt. The June 3 #authorschallenge2019 asked what my writing motto was. I had to think about it. A motto is something you live by, something that defines your actions and choices. I tried to think of clever and witty sayings I had heard, and while many of them were smart, and some had good advice, none of them defined my choices.
Writing is a funny thing. You sit alone in your room for more hours than you can count and hammer away at something made up. It comes out of you, but isn’t you, like a brain baby, pieced together from random insights and observations about the human condition. You can try to plot out an idea, but in the end, the thing that is birthed is far too complex to be completely in your control. It continues to grow without you, passed off into the hands of readers, both caring and uncaring. From time to time, it comes home for alterations, small as well as catastrophic. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, someone will pay you for this strange work. You don’t even try to compare the money to the hours, because you know it doesn’t scratch the surface of minimum wage. But you’re an artist. You’re prepared for this. Maybe one day the compensation will count as a job. And then back at it you go, to conceive of a new idea.
Why do we do this? This question could apply to any art form, and the longer I think about it, the more my reasons slip away. Simply, I must. This is how I was made. There is something in me that would shrivel if I didn’t write, a burning question, a need to look at the world, to discover it. The act of creation is like breathing. Without it, I suffocate.
Can you relate? Is there something you do because you must? I’d love to hear about it!