People write for all sorts of reasons. For some, it’s simply a requirement of their employment. But many people write for much more personal reasons. Some simply want to journal their thoughts and ideas, or use their journal as a type of confessional, or as a way to examine an issue they are struggling with. Others want to pass down to their family their insights and life experiences, while others have stories in their heads they’d like to share, and so hope to be published.In December 2006, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, Orhan Pamuk gave a speech titled ‘My Father’s Suitcase’ [translated into English by Maureen Freely]. In it, he explained why he wrote thus:
‘I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else … I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf … Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone.’
Like Pamuk, George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four, amongst others, also wrote because of a need to expose an injustice. He stated:
‘I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.’
Other writers search for meaning and write to better understand themselves and their world. Multi-award winner Jonathan Safran Foer admitted, in an interview for the New York Times, that
‘As a writer, I am trying to express those things that are most scary to me, because I am alone with them. Why do I write? It’s not that I want people to think I am smart, or even that I am a good writer. I write because I want to end my loneliness. Books make people less alone. That, before and after everything else, is what books do. They show us that conversations are possible across distances.’
And in an essay in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, conservationist and activist Terry Tempest Williams says she writes
‘… to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create red in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change … I write myself out of my nightmares and into my dreams. . . .’
But whether one writes to highlight an injustice, to find oneself, or to give voice to a story, there are also benefits to writing that apply whether the writing is with publication in mind or simply putting one’s thoughts down in a journal.
Writing can be cathartic:
By putting ones pain or anger on paper, one steps back from the issue, and so is able to examine the problem from a safer distance. And by making his or her characters experience and struggle with great conflict, the writer subconsciously finds ways of dealing with his or her own struggles.
Writing tells us who we are:
The themes we write about are a reflection of ourselves – of what we believe and what is important in our lives. Unless writing an autobiography, writers never consciously write about themselves. Yet each character and each piece of dialogue is an example, in a refracted way, of who they are.
Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian philosopher and literary critic who worked on literary theory and the philosophy of language, argued in The Dialogic Imagination that a writer’s text is multi-voiced, influenced by the writer’s voice, which is influenced by other people and events, which in turn are influenced by yet other people and events, which, he says, is what makes each novel unique.
Writing is also a creative act:
And creativity is good for you. It allows the writer to examine, understand, express, and solidify his or her relationship with the world. Whether one is struggling to put one’s thoughts in order in a journal, or plotting a great novel, it is the pursuit, the following of ideas down all sorts of rabbit holes, and not the attainment per se that counts [though of course there is great satisfaction in accomplishing something creative].
In his book Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Distinguished Professor of Psychology and a pioneer in the scientific study of happiness – stated that
‘… when we learn to enjoy using our latent creative energy, so that it generates its own internal force to keep concentration focused, we not only avoid depression but also increase the complexity of our capacities to relate to the world.’
There are many reasons why people write, and each is as valid as the next. Personally, I write because I’m interested in what history can teach us – both the good and the bad. And I write because I’m interested in the human condition – why do people behave as they do? Why is it that some can withstand the most horrific conditions, whilst others collapse at the smallest upset? What makes a ‘good’ person? A ‘bad’ person? And is anyone truly all ‘good’ or ‘bad’? These are issues I explore both in The Yellow Papers and That Devil’s Madness, and in Orphan Rock, my latest novel due out early 2022. #writingadvise #mywriting #amreading #ausfiction