Why do you write?
If I were to take a survey of all of you right now, I bet I’d get some similar answers. Writing gets the stories in my head out into the world. I write to express emotions. I write because I want to see my byline. I do it for the money. I do it for the exposure. I do it for the creative outlet.
These are the answers that spring to mind; these are the answers I’d give myself. But what if we dug a little deeper? What if we put our collective brains into this question and pushed past the initial easy answers? Let’s explore the question of why we write, through the lens of what writing does for us.
Writing is bravery
There’s nothing braver than the act of putting your innermost thoughts and feelings into the world for others to read, react to and comment on. Writing develops our capacity to face fears and access our courage. Some of the bravest acts in history were putting words to paper. Think of the Declaration of Independence: if the United States had lost the war with Britain, every one of the leaders who wrote and signed that document would have been hanged for treason. Our own writing may not have such high stakes, but it is no less brave.
Writing is faith
We continue to write because of a shared trust that our words matter to the world. Faith keeps us going even when nothing else is going our way. Writers believe in things that our family and friends consider mythical: a literary agent’s response to our query; a three-book publishing deal; personal connection with a fan. Fostering these beliefs is another reason we write. Everyone needs something to believe in; we believe in the power of words to change and heal the world.
Writing is love
Through writing, we learn to have compassion for ourselves and others. We write to process our own life stories and to better understand the world. Understanding leads to relating, and relating leads to loving. There’s more love in the world because a writer put pen to page.
Writing is power
There’s nothing more powerful than clarity of thought and a sense of purpose, and both of those arise through the act of writing. Whether our words are written for one or for millions, they have impact. The most famous speeches in history were written down before they were spoken aloud. Imagine a world without Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Writing is perspective
When we write, we change the way we and others see the world around us. We allow our readers to slip into our perspective or that of our characters, and invite them to lay their worldview atop our own. We create empathy and open up new pathways of understanding.
Writing is community
Stories take on a life of their own within a community. They’re told and re-told, adopted for another person’s purpose, and sometimes even become sacred. Books have sparked passionate discussion in book clubs; books have even been made into podcasts and plays that honor the original work while continuing to introduce new ideas. The act of writing begins the act of community-building.
Writing is vulnerability
The best writing reveals us for who we truly are. It bares our souls, not only for others, but for ourselves. It forces us to see ourselves clearly. We become deeper, truer versions of ourselves when we are vulnerable through writing.
Writing is creativity
It is our way of putting something new into the world that didn’t exist before. The act of creating brings us closer to a higher power.
Writing is a tool
As much as a hammer or a knife, writing can be used both to help and to hurt. It’s a gift that must be handled wisely. When applied well, it can change the world.
Writers, it is a noble thing that we do.
Why do you write? On its deepest levels, what does writing do for you? Tell me in the comments below, or share with me on Twitter @sowulwords and #diymfa.
Leanne Sowul is a writer and teacher from the Hudson Valley region of New York. She’s the curator of the website Words From The Sowul and authors the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA. She writes historical fiction and personal essay, for which she won the Scott Meyer Award in 2017; her work is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with her at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, at Facebook.com/sowulwords, or on Twitter @sowulwords.