Hear from some of our past readers on why they write. That was the whole question: Why do you write? And these are their responses.
Everyone’s answers seem right and wrong. Might as well be mine.
A. Igoni Barrett:
I write for money and glory and free drinks at snazzy book readings. But also because I can.
I write because it is the only quasi-professional activity at which I’ve ever proved myself even remotely competent. I’ve tried filmmaking, graphic design, cocktail waitressing, telemarketing, English literature grad school, and many other low-skill, low-pay jobs and couldn’t hack it at any of them. I couldn’t even finish English literature grad school. In recent years I’ve wished I’d become a certified electrician, a woodworker, a forest ranger, or a landscape architect, but it seems pretty unlikely I’ll acquire any of these skills at my age given all the lesser skills I’ve already failed to acquire. I will probably stick with writing.
Mainly out of tea-assisted defiance, I think.
I love stories. I come to writing via a lifelong passion for reading. I can’t think of anything more satisfying, more revealing, more illuminating, more moving, more honest than a well-told story. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
I write because I can’t help it. I write because, if I can’t not, then I ought to be as good as possible, and skill grows with practice. When I don’t write, I get in trouble with myopia and forgetfulness. I go around confused and have run ins with inanimate objects. Writing reintroduces the world to me, and myself along with it.
I write in the spirit of Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” But I also write in the spirit of Boswell, who followed up that line with skepticism (or heartbreaking sincerity): “Numerous instances to refute this will occur to all who are versed in the history of literature.”
I write to transmit the life that I have lived, that others have lived. When I write as a journalist, I do so to put my rage at ease, to bring myself to a place where I no longer feel impotent in the face of injustice. When I write non-fiction essays I do so to look closely at the culture that raised me and the culture that holds me now. When I write fiction I do so to dwell in compassion, to love the unlovable, to understand the humanity of those with whom I would disagree to the bitter end. When I write poetry I do so to share myself, unfiltered, an asking rather than a telling. To be without a piece of paper and writing instrument (pen, pencil, lipstick, eyeliner, blood, if nothing else!), or a screen and keyboard, and without words on paper, preferably in hardcover, I don’t think that has ever happened in my life. Writing = joy+gratitude. I am blessed and I cannot and never will see writing as work. It is, every step of the way, a gift to dwell within words.
I write to remember what has happened and also what might have happened but didn’t. I write in order to smuggle complex situations from my mind into the mind of another person. I write not to demolish my doubts but to get a clearer view of their contours. And I write because it’s a consolation to bring into this world something that didn’t exist before, something that someone else might find beautiful, that someone else might find consoling.
I write to engage with a world that feels fuller than full, realer than real. Sometimes, life feels so limited, so incomplete, half-realized only. And in fiction, we can make everything matter, everything poignant, everything expressed as it could be, might be. On good days. I read for that. And I write for that. At least, that’s the goal. And also, writing has become a habit, a crucial part of the way that I process the world. I calculate everything in sentences. And if I don’t write them down, I overfloweth. So.
I write because when I’m writing I get a break from being me. I get to inhabit someone else, see the world through their filter, wear their clothing, flaunt their body, do their job instead of mine.
I’m too nervous to be an actor, too inept to be a fisherman, too old to go to big animal vet school—and full time drinking is just too boring and exhausting.
Jessica Francis Kane:
I think I write because I always have. As early as third grade, I started a story that I told myself must be finished. It was about a silver island, that is all I remember, and I was supposed to work on it on Saturday mornings. But most Saturday mornings I got up and went downstairs to watch Abbott and Costello movies instead. So there it was: the guilt of not writing before I’d even known the pleasure of writing. I kept at it, though, growing more disciplined over the years, and now my stories are not trying to explore faraway islands, but the thoughts and motivations of others.
I write because I feel compelled to, because there’s something inside me that wakes me up in the middle of the night and says, “Put this phrase, this character, this idea down on paper! You’re its only hope!” I write because not doing it, the sitting in front of a laptop alone for hours on end, weirdly makes me fear that I’m missing out on life. It’s as simple and complicated as that.
Why do I write? Because I have no idea what I’d do otherwise. That sounds like a tongue-in-cheek answer, but it’s essentially true. Writing gives a shape to my life, and on a good day, a sense of purpose. It allows me to ask the questions I consider important, to do research, and to try to answer them. It’s both a position of privilege and a necessity.
Stefan Merrill Block:
When I was a kid in Texas, I used to go out to the wheat fields to play fetch with my golden retriever, Indy. Indy much preferred those fields to our own mowed backyard. Among the high and dense stalks, a ball could get so lost that it would take her a couple minutes of delightful bounding to find it.
One time, when I tossed the ball as far as I could into the wheat, Indy failed to recover it. After a long while, she came back to me, looking more expectant than disappointed. I didn’t have another ball with me, and so instead I just pretended to throw something. I doubted my pantomime was convincing, but Indy happily leaped back into the wheat. Dumb dog, I said and laughed.
Empty-mouthed, Indy returned ten minutes later, and she flashed me the same eager look. Once again, I pretended to throw a ball, and Indy rushed back to her searching. We repeated this sequence many times over, and as Indy let herself be fooled, again and again, I started to wonder if there might be some wisdom in her delusion. Searching for thrown objects was all she ever wanted to do. It was in her nature; it was an impulse wired into her genes. When pouncing and rooting through a field, she seemed to be at her grinning, yelping happiest. And so maybe an imaginary ball suited her even better than a real ball? Because these balls didn’t exist, Indy got to spend much more time looking for them.
But the thing about those imaginary balls is that they could only compel Indy because she remembered the missing, actual one. Each time she ran back into the fields, she could always have this hope she might happen to find the real thing that she’d lost.
Dumb dog, I once mocked her, but at least Indy could blame her imagination on my fake-out throws. As a writer, I’m still a tosser of imaginary balls, but I’m also their helpless retriever.
Recently I got to hear Mary Gaitskill answer this same question. I loved her answer, which was something along the lines of, ”I write because it was the only thing I could do.” For me that’s certainly true—it’s not like NASA was calling, begging me to design rockets. Writing is also the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do—truly wanted to do, without regard for whether I in fact had the talent to do it or what other people would think about that decision. In college, I remember walking home from the computer lab at four a.m. in sub-zero temperatures, happier than I had any right to be, because I was working on some new story.
It beats armed robbery! OR DOES IT.
I write for the money. Seriously, I’m always broke and I’m writing to get the next payment from the publisher. I also like constructing something–it feels like building a sand castle or a lego tower.
I write because I’ve always written. When I was in sixth grade I told myself chapters of a serial novel every day on the way to and from school. It was about two brothers who are the heirs to the Kraft Cheese fortune. One becomes powerful and good; the other becomes a drug addict and is destroyed. I have no idea where that strange idea came from, just as I have no idea where my more recent novels have come from. I only know that I constantly have a story or two going in my head, and one on the computer, and that I listen in on everyone else’s stories too. Writing fiction is the most absorbing, challenging and restorative activity I know.
Because I have to. Because when I’m not writing I’m fusty and cranky and far from the best version of myself. It took me a long time to get published, and towards the end of that period I became depressed. As it turned out, the only thing that made me feel better was writing. I ended up writing a novel in order to climb out of the depression that failing at writing had caused. That’s crazy, right? But it was also revelatory, because I realized I couldn’t stop writing, and that removed the pressure to be published. I was simply going to write, no matter what.
Fiction is the filter through which I see the world. And I suppose I write to stop time.
I have no idea, to be honest. It passes the time. I’ve also noticed that although horrible things happen in the books that I write, the horribleness doesn’t depress me or terrify me, for some reason. I suppose that’s because I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I’m in control of the situation.
Because it’s fun. It’s *really* fun. When it’s going well, there is no better feeling. This is a bad analogy, but watch me make it anyway: Imagine yourself playing an instrument, playing fast and hitting all the right notes–doesn’t that feel amazing? Writing can feel like that for me, and so whenever my writer friends begin to despair about their work, I always tell them just to try to recoup the fun of it all first. Forget what they are working on. Just let it rip. Howl at the moon. Go nuts. Obviously I have to tell myself that, too, since when it’s going badly, it feels horrible. I get depressed. Certain I will never write anything decent again. My life is over. It’s all over! But then maybe I write a sentence and kind of like the way it sounds. And then there’s this guy in the sentence who was born with giant ears and just got one pinned back to see how it would look and it looks great, only for some reason, he can’t afford to get the other one pinned. And he runs an organic cheese bar. And off I go. And I’m happy again.
I write because I don’t feel quite alive unless I’m trying to give shape to what I see and hear and think and feel. In part, I’m trying to make contact with others. I’m trying to feel less alone, and in that, I hope the reader feels less alone along with me. But in part, I’m also trying to make contact with the future. That sounds lofty, I know. But I think of writing as a single hand waving at the future from the past.
Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I think. It’s endlessly challenging. It’s an absolutely absurd profession, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. And I’ve tried a lot of other things–office jobs, non-office jobs. Also, I get bored very quickly and I like the idea of being able to dive into a world for two or three years and then get out of it and go into another world. American Subversive was my political book and now I’m writing a love story that has nothing to do with politics at all.
To define myself.
I’ve got serious daddy issues, and cataclysmic mommy issues and I’m often overwhelmed with rage at the world.
Paul La Farge:
Honestly? It’s the only way I can even begin to reconcile myself to the fact that I’m only going to live for so long, and that time keeps passing.
Because I can’t dance.
To see if I can get away with it.
I like to tell myself stories, but I learned at a pretty young age that people look at you funny if you talk to yourself. So I started writing the stories down.
I really like reading novels and short stories, and always have. The next logical step was to write my own. Also, I enjoy having a world that I can control. The real world seems very out of my control. On good days, the fictional world doesn’t.
I like to remember things, but my cursed human memory is imperfect. The obvious solution is to keep a journal, but I’ve never been good at that. As a kid, I would write about my life and feel awkward about (a.) not editing myself and (b.) somehow subconsciously censoring myself at the same time. I couldn’t cast off the feeling that writing is something you do for other people to read, and of course reading a journal is not something people want to read unless they enjoy spying on you, which most people understandably do not.
So at some point, writing fiction became a way for me to remember things that kind of, sort of, and/or never ever happened to me: as imperfect and inaccurate as a memory but with more control. It’s also a challenge: figuring out how to express myself in a way that’s fun for me while making that expression fun for someone else. You can trick someone into spying on you if you make it interesting!
I also write film criticism, in part probably to keep my characters from spending too much time talking about what movies they like and why.
Matthew Aaron Goodman:
If I knew how to play the drums, I’d bang on them. If I played the piano or sung or painted, then that’s what I’d do. My need to testify, to celebrate those whom I love and who have loved me is, maybe, too strong. I write because I oppose divisions, divisiveness, and malice, both in my own thinking and in the thinking of others. Let a woman do what she wants with her body! Let David love Giovanni! I write because I am a mad scientist determined to prove that we are each at our core the want to love and to be loved, nothing more. I write because when God called Abraham, he answered, “Here I am, oh Lord, here I am!” I write because I’m no fool. I know people were hung from trees, thrust into the gas houses, and thrown into dungeons for speaking out. Who am I to play small, to not embrace the privilege and responsibilities of voice? I write because I have found salvation in the words of others, and I have been made small by the words of others and been othered too. I write because “subject is known by what she sees/Others can measure their vision by what we see…” I write because I have a son and life is quick to end so if I go tonight, in my sleep let’s say, then at least he might learn from whence he came, hear my voice if he uses his imagination and wishes to glimpse, come to terms with, or maybe even hold what sort of man I am, what I have failed and overcome, where and how I began, lived, and became.
I write to try to make sense of the world, or at least to see it more clearly. It’s very satisfying when I can form things into a story that has a final focus. I’m always trying to connect things that don’t connect very easily. I always wanted to be a writer but I don’t think I knew how much work was involved!
Writing stops me from lying in real life. It’s like creating time. When you write you invent events and places and people all of which you’ve been at or been to or met. You’re making up time you never really had. Also it’s one of only four things that make me truly happy. It’s the second most difficult of those four things.
I think I write, in part, for the same reason I read—just to get out of my own experience. Also, I want the challenge. It’s hard. Creating characters out of nothing. You can do anything as long as it works—it feels like such a tightrope walk. And I’m interested in people. It’s fun to create people. For all those reasons. It seems like a great life. I feel fortunate to be able to do it.
The perfect question, because authors crave it, and resent it. My initial impulse was avoidance, to respond, cute, “Why do you ask?” but I suppose that’s a cowardice no more becoming than vainglory or ingratitude.
To justify the necessity of one’s writing through personal experience of political passion is to answer the craving, the craving for recognition that is simultaneously the engine and Armageddon of authorship. It’s something authors do all the time—because as much as that answer is an exercise in self-congratulations, it’s partially the truth. “I write thus because thus is what I believe and who I’ve come to be through these experiences.” The risk of this kind of justification is that one tends to fall prey to cultural presumptions, and to, however intentionally or unintentionally, generate agitprop. For example: I survived a terrible childhood, and through sin, suffering, redemption, I overcame it and became a productive—if somewhat special and reserved—member of society. That, of course, is the Western construct of religion (sin, suffering, redemption) and consumer culture (overcome your personal trials by investing yourself in culture or subculture (you’ll have to “buy in” with stuff, with lifestyle choices, with money and time—and you’ll have to sacrifice a big chunk of yourself in the process). A personal example: I wrote this piece to try to explain why a book of mine was a natural output for who I had been and how I had grown up; at the same time I was trying to get Arthur Phillips to fight me, which I thought would have been fun (and still do). I had more than adequate raw material for the essay, and I tried to bring a larger context, a much larger context, to what I feared was carping. But challenging Arthur Phillips to a fight (come on man, it’ll be fun, we’re the same weight, you have the boxing, we can be young again) plays directly into the presumption that authorship, that artistry is a solitary pursuit, and a competitive pursuit. In fact, it is neither, and it’s to the great detriment of creative life that “I” is more foundational to contemporary arts than “we.” (I wrote an essay about that here.)
Now: resentment. Authors, artists, feel that creativity is a natural state, and that the question, “Why do you make art?” would more justly be lobbed at uncreative people: “Why don’t you make art?” Creativity, creative thinking, is the single best answer to our contemporary catastrophe. (Here, I wrote about the “Politics of Narrative”) Hmm, there’s a parable, a gnostic parable. I’ll quote it from Elaine Pagels’ translation of the Gospel of Thomas. “Jesus told his disciples that a very wealthy merchant had filled his home with treasures from all over the world. One night, he returned from the market to see that his home was burning down, so he ran in and saved his children.” Ok, that isn’t a gnostic parable, it isn’t in the Gospel of Thomas, and Elaine Pagels didn’t translate it—I made it up. Can we talk about it when we meet?
I wish I didn’t have to write, wish I had acquired a different skill, wish my parents would have been other people, nudged me into music or dance or . . . motocross racing. Writing chose me when I wasn’t looking, when I was busy in the world trying to be something else. I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who choose to write: why would you choose the hardest of the arts, a life of solitude and rejection, of vanity and self-scrutiny? So writing isn’t something I do; rather, it is what I am, what I became, what became me. I go long stretches without writing a word, and mostly because I’m profoundly lazy and prefer reading, but also because when you sit down to write you sit down to face your failure, your potential for failure, the merciless inadequacy of all language, and that’s never uplifting. There might still be time for something else to find me. I’m here waiting.
I write because the more I thought about it, pharmacy school didn’t sound like fun at all. And life would be too easy if I wasn’t rejected every day. And I’d still talk to myself just as often, but I wouldn’t have as good of an excuse. I write because of Mr. Mayer, 12th grade lit. Because of Barry Hannah, and the one who showed him to me. Because of Joy and Lorrie and Flannery and Grace. Because none of them had written my stories yet.
If the soul is in the eyes, then I’d better look at the page. What does that mean? I don’t know what’s going on unless I can grip it with a pen and watch it come out. Plenty of somebody’s in this blog say that better. But when the money in writing is peeled away–and more and more it is–there’s just the obsession. Did somebody already say that too? Finding the right word–don’t kid yourself, you’ll never ﬁnd the right word, you’re lost ﬁnding the right word, It’s there on your tongue but your brain can’t taste it–is that obsession. I could collect bottle caps.
Sometimes people ask me if writing is my “passion” and I feel bad in disappointing them by saying “no.” I write because I’d be profoundly unhappy if I didn’t. I think ennui is a natural occurrence, almost like weather. Writing is a way of dealing with that. It’s like an umbrella or sunscreen to the weather of one’s normal, every day, mundane ennui. But that metaphor isn’t perfect because it’s not like you can go buy writing the way you can buy an umbrella or sunscreen. Instead, writing to fight ennui is like growing an umbrella out of your arm or secreting sunscreen from your pours. Or something. Plus, for me, I get bored very easily. Sherlock Holmes loses his shit when he doesn’t have a mystery to solve. If I’m not writing about something or thinking about writing something, I’m probably in bad shape.
I write for love, because I love the written word’s power and its beauty. I write out of curiosity, to learn what the story is trying to teach. I write out of gratitude to other writers who have sustained me or widened my heart or made me think about something in a fresh way. I write as spiritual exercise, to keep fluent in inhabiting sensibilities other than my own. I write for peace, because I am curmudgeonly and unpleasant to be around (even to myself) when I’m not writing. I write as an act of saying Yes to what on good days feels like a calling. I write to feel connected to everyone. I write to feel most myself.
There are a few reasons. I think that writers are very greedy about life. Our one life isn’t enough so we have to be constantly inventing these other realities to take part in. Or perhaps it’s because we can’t handle our own reality that we have to escape to other ones. But I think it’s this obsession with actually having more lives. I think you’re just fascinated by stories that you can’t live yourself. Also, it’s very hard for me to make sense of things when I’m speaking, so I do think it helps make sense of the world, to write it down. I think in so many different wheel-ways at once that writing is a really helpful way to cement it. Also, I’m such an addictive personality that I need something to be obsessed with. I would probably be a herion addict if I didn’t write. I need an outlet for all of my urges and it does that perfectly. When you feel like you’re contributing a great sentence or idea or character to the world, it feels great. It’s a mystery to me, why it’s an addiction. You get lost, but you also claim more of the world. It’s amazing.
I don’t have to write. But if I didn’t I wouldn’t be very happy.
Writing helps me make sense of the world and everything about the world that’s in my head.
Writing helps me learn things about myself and other people I didn’t know.
Writing makes me calm.
I feel very satisfied when I write and especially when I finish something I’m writing as if I just filled a deep hole or closed a deep wound or just paved a road inside me that was starting to buckle.
Writing helps me live peacefully with my thoughts and with my neighbors’ thoughts.
When a succubus sits on my chest at night, writing something very wry and very ironic usually gets rid of it or any other demons that happen to be lingering around.
Writing gives me the time and space I can’t get doing anything else.
I could be sitting in the middle of Grand Central Station and feel protected and isolated by my writing. At the same time I could be standing with other people on line at the bank or on a train platform and feel overwhelmed.
Writing keeps me sane.
I don’t really know why but if I didn’t write I’d probably be in a padded room–heavily medicated.
Why do I write? Who knows? I try not to think about it too much.
I come from a family of artsy smart alecs, most notably my cousin Kara [Walker], but also my mom studied fashion design and then became a journalist, Kara’s dad, Larry (the aforementioned uncle) is a pretty successful painter and educator, my sister writes poetry in Russian, etc. etc. Unlike many households, in my home I got a lot of encouragement to do creative things, so I tried a whole bunch and realized after way too long that I was strongest in writing, and that writing brought together a lot of skills from other artistic disciplines. Of course, interest and technical proficiency are the least interesting part of the battle; the other part is the desire to say something worthwhile. I was going to say that I write because I believe I have something to say, but it feels much more like Something To Say has me.
When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader and writer; I even wrote a novel when I was in sixth grade, and attracted the attention of a literary agent who shopped it around (garnering a stack of very considerate rejection letters). But, in college, I had a creative writing teacher who was deeply unenthusiastic about my work, and a drawing teacher who was very encouraging, so I changed my major to Studio Art.
When I first moved to New York, I spent a fair amount of time trying to make it in the art world, but at some point—about six years ago—I began to grow tired of that particular scene. I found it depressing to have piles of unsold paintings cluttering my small apartment; and, when I did sell work, it made me sad that I was never going to see it again—it felt like selling off one of my kids. I started thinking about doing something different.
A while back, I’d spent some time living in Southeast Asia, and had written my friend John (Wray) some extraordinarily long letters that he thought might be good fodder for a novel. I liked the idea of making a reproducible object such as a book—something that wasn’t a precious singular entity like a piece of art. (Also, I figured that if my writing turned out to be unpublishable, at least it could remain hidden inside my hard drive rather than taking up closet space.) However, by that point in my life, I didn’t really consider myself a writer, and the idea of undertaking a novel seemed somewhat ridiculous. I decided to give it a shot anyway.
I originally was thinking of making some sort of art-book that had a bit of text in it, but, once I began writing, I found that I couldn’t stop. I felt like I was 13 years old again, and could just sit and write uninterrupted for hours at a time. To me, the most exciting thing about writing—when it’s going well, at least—is that I feel as though I’m having a kind of lucid dream, watching the narrative unspool before my eyes. (I realize that this sentiment is probably a major cliche, but, like most good cliches, it happens to be true.)
I also find that the creation of a fictional world makes more engaged in the actual world. I’m very intuitive when I work, and have a superstitious (and possibly narcissistic) belief that the world is constantly sending me clues as to what should be included in a story. (Recently, I very randomly came across a biography of the musician Warren Zevon, and he has now become a major character in my new novel.) Crafting a fictional universe gives me a satisfyingly god-like sensation, and I recommend that everybody give it try.
I started writing when I was 4. I heard the voice Kermit sang about that “calls the young sailors.” It was someone that I was supposed to be. In this way, I write because I have to write. I was called. For that I feel extremely blessed.
I come from a very loud family. Everyone tells stories and exaggerates a lot. I was quiet; I always had my nose in a book. But I was never not listening. I found myself writing, simply because I did. It was something to pass the time, keep me inspired while I studied for my pre-med classes in college. At first I wrote little echoes, exaggerations of my family’s voices. Then I realized I’d have to fictionalize their stories: no one would believe them otherwise. Now I write mostly because of guilt.
One summer when I was a kid my mother bribed me to read books at the rate of one dollar per book. As a cash-strapped nine-year-old with an insatiable appetite for Hardy Boys books I found this to be a highly favorable rate.
Throughout the summer I kept a list of the books I read. Besides the benefits of reading, my mother’s bribe was also designed to teach delayed gratification. I wouldn’t be paid for the books that I read until the end of the summer. This was a marathon, not a sprint, lest I earn and burn my dollar bills.
My reading list was top-heavy with the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Boxcar Children, but by midsummer I was being more strategic with my book choices, reading not for love but for the “Benjamins,” as they say. During our weekly library visit I would disappear to the children’s section in search of books with large print and a low page count (these were not inversely-proportional qualities in the children’s section of the library).
My list grew in leaps and bounds because of my new strategy. I even readjusted my projected profit for Q3 and Q4 of my summer earnings. Periodically, I submitted my list for initialing by my father, who, as the breadwinner, served as an auditor of sorts. After noticing the atypical growth in my reading list, Mom and Dad conferred and put into place some regulatory measures. In my defense, I was in a bit of a literary wasteland. This was before publishing houses realized they had left the Young Adult market largely untapped.
Despite the parental red-tape, by summer’s end I had read just over 100 books. Which meant, in short, that I was rich. Do you know how many Butterfingers and Mountain Dews one can buy with $100?
A lot is the answer, especially at Sam’s Club.
Nearly two decades later, that $100 is still the most money I’ve ever earned doing anything literary. I blame my mother’s bribery for connecting the disparate ideas of money and literature. However, I must also credit her with my love of books and therefore with my desire to write them.
Reading wasn’t my only hobby as a kid. (I wasn’t a complete freak-nerd!). I also built fortresses, castles, and bunkers with Legos, ushering around my yellow-headed Lego guys with all the vrooms, bangs, and pows one needs to authentically give life to a toy. Here was my first workshop in dialogue, conflict, and dramatic arc.
About the time I outgrew my Legos (if one ever does: have you been to the Lego store at Rockefeller Center?!), my father brought home an enormous PC for the family living room. It didn’t take long for us to find pirated copies of Civilization, the Sims, and Rollercoaster Tycoon.
What these games added (and what Legos lacked) was the element of strategy. Whether it was planting a rudimentary settlement or constructing a theme park, these games required me to build little worlds and set them into motion. In short, these games had a storyline, a plot.
If writing is a game, then it’s the hardest game I’ve ever played. But sometimes, I think writing fulfills this need to amuse myself, and so, it feels like a game. The challenge is similar: make something that works and that entertains you (and others, if you hope for readers).
Perhaps the best game/toy metaphor for writing is a simpler one: that of a racecar. The work of putting together the track and arranging the car’s mechanics is secondary to the fun of winding it up, setting it on the track, and watching it stutter to life after you let it go.
I write because I’m perfectly useless at everything else. Seriously. You should see me operate heavy machinery.
This is going to sound crazy but I need you to believe me. I never had any intention of becoming a writer. From age seventeen I was an actor, though I read voraciously since early childhood. But the idea of writing sort of repulsed me. In retrospect, I believe it had to do with feeling too “exposed.” As an actor you get to hide behind another’s words. As a writer you are out there. So, anyway, I was going along and one summer I started to hear a little voice in my head. Not “voices” like schizophrenics. But one little voice kept telling me “write that story.” It was annoying, actually. But it must’ve made some inroads because that August I wrote my first short story (25 ms pages so it wasn’t all that short). I took it over to the New School, to a class led by the writer and fabulous teacher Alexander (Sandy) Neubauer. I workshopped the story and it was massacred. But Sandy liked it a lot and told me to “keep writing.” It opened a door. That door will not close. I have no further explanations. Oh! And while I was still deeply involved in acting, a talented psychic told me I would become a writer. I started laughing.
A teacher of mine once said that there are two basic types of writers. Writers of the first type have had so many experiences in their lives that they need a way to externalize some of those things, to exorcise them onto paper. Writers of the second type feel that they haven’t had enough experiences, and so they create alternate worlds in which they can explore some of the situations and emotions they are unlikely to ever encounter in their own lives. For these writers, the world is, quite simply, too boring. I fall into this second category. For me, writing is a way to have an existence that is more expansive than I could otherwise have. It allows me to temporarily jump into other lives and to see the world from different perspectives.