Writer’s Insights: Why I Write

Most writers will tell you that writing is non-optional for them; it’s compulsion. Obsession. I’m much the same way. When I don’t write, I’m not a very happy person. When I do write, I’m much more pleasant.


Staying Sane


That’s one reason I write: to keep my sanity. I tend to become unbalanced when I don’t give my creativity much exercise, and, unfortunately, there’s a lot of work out there that doesn’t really appreciate you taking “creative liberties” with it. While I do get to be creative sometimes, it’s often within a context of constraint.


Artist Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is often cited as a depiction of inner turmoil.

Ohhhh nooooooo.

Many writers will tell you they “go crazy” if they don’t have opportunities to write. They’re not joking or lying. There are stereotypes about all “artistic types” having depression or bipolar disorder. Stereotypes are harmful. Not everyone who suffers from mental illness is an artist. Not every artist is mentally ill.


Yet there’s some scientific research that supports the idea. Artists are wired a little differently. We tend to be much more sensitive and attuned to our environments. We’re more emotive and sensitive. We tend to be more empathetic. We’re often also introverted and socially inept, which can contribute to phobias and anxieties.


Essentially, the way an “artistic” brain works tends to be the same way a mentally ill brain works. You can’t equate the two, but what the research suggests is writers, musicians, and artists tend to be more prone to mental illness. The neural wiring that allows us to see and interpret the world in artistic ways also tends to make us more vulnerable.


When Reality Isn’t Enough


But obviously, “staying sane” is not the whole story. Why do I write then? Why do I feel so compelled to let my imagination take flight, to imagine stories about other people, other places?


Quite frankly, because I’m bored. Reality is a horrifying concept to me. I hate it. I hate the drudgery of getting up, going to work, dealing with other people for eight hours a day, returning home (often to do more work—thanks, “gig economy”), and then contending with the responsibilities of an adult somewhere in there.

A Japanese depiction of a fox demon.

Tell me the last time an anthropomorphic fox showed up at your door.

It’s pointless. It’s meaningless. At the end of the day, the week, the month, the year—at the end of your life, does anyone really care that you got to the gym, or that you remembered to get your driver’s license renewed on time? Your existence is menial, inconsequential. That fact is driven home in the day-to-day happenings, the minutiae of everyday life.


There are no big, sweeping exits. There are no happy endings. Life-or-death decisions don’t happen on a day-to-day basis, and no one is looking for a Big Damn Hero to come in and save the day.


But we’d all like to imagine that there could be. We like to become a heroine in a romance novel or the secret superhero who is suddenly called upon to battle evil and save the world. That’s why we watch movies and TV, read books and comics. We like to imagine that we’re not so insignificant.


Playing God


I write because it’s how I escape the minutiae of an otherwise bland existence. In my writing, I can assume the guise of the Big Damn Hero. I can imagine these life-or-death scenarios I hope to never actually encounter. I can give characters their happy endings—or taketh them away.


In this sense, I write because I can play God. Yes, there is a huge element of control for me; that’s why I write. While some people may be content to read in order to escape, reading lacks the element of control. The author has me at their mercy; characters will act according to that “God’s” rules, not my own. So if I don’t like how a character reacts to a particular situation, there’s not much I can do about it—except become a writer myself and pen some fanfiction that suggests an alternate universe or reality.


So I write to maintain control. I lack control in my day-to-day life; I am obligated to fulfill other duties, to acquiesce to others’ whims. In my fiction, my characters answer to me; I in turn answer to no one (except maybe the readers later on).


This isn’t an unusual stance either. Many people acknowledge the power of writing. A new theory can change the debate, and new research can change the nature of knowledge. Language constitutes the basis of what we know and how we know it. Writing is obviously a creative act, an act of generation. It gives people the power to shape and reshape worlds.


In a world that’s increasingly spinning out of control, writing can act as a sort of comfort. It’s a control mechanism. I can use it as wish-fulfillment to hook up with my favorite actor or to be the hero who saves the day. I can also imagine a world where Donald Trump was never elected president of the United States, a world without discrimination, or a dystopic world where the planet has been destroyed by human beings’ hubris.


Of course, I can’t necessarily control what’s going on in the wider world. I’m not a very powerful person. I have a very small sphere of influence. Yet with my writing, I can become all-powerful. When the world tries to strip me of any vestige of power I might have, I can retreat to my writing.


My writing then has the power to interact with readers, to transform their ideas.


Becoming a Better Person

Reading is a transformative act. Writing is generative, but the experience can also be transformative. Writers surprise themselves by collecting thoughts and half-formed ideas and shaping them into something new. The writing process teaches us many things we couldn’t have learned about ourselves otherwise.


I’m not talking about learning whether we really knew the difference between “its” and “it’s” all along. Writing can show us our fears or help us discover where we stand on political issues—even if what we’re writing isn’t necessarily political. It may show us our own vision for the future—and even give us a roadmap for how to get there.


In some senses, then, the act of writing is a process of identity formation. I write to discover—and retain—who I am.


Why Do I Write?


I write to escape my own existence. I write to maintain some illusion of control over a life buffeted by the waves of reality. And I write to keep my sanity, my identity.


I am compelled, obsessed. I must write. When I do not, I suffer. So I must write. I cannot stop. I must continue on.

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