I thought about it and I had no answer. Why do I write? I have been writing all my life – but why?
It is not a profession which leads an obese bank account.
Most writers do not make a living at writing. To survive you need other work which will pay the bills. Writing is usually a balancing act, caught in the cracks between work and family commitments. Writers must take whatever moments they can, steal time to write, cutting out other pleasures to squeeze a little more writing time from an almost empty tube.
Most writers would love to write full time – but they need to eat. Writing rarely makes any money. Poetry is notorious for that – poetry and money just don’t live in the same town.
Does that ever stop poets from writing? Of course not.
So what is it? Success?
Very few writers achieve success. Their readers are usually their writing friends and writing group members. Writers can struggle for decades without getting anywhere.
In the days of traditional publishing many writers never got published. In today’s age of self publishing you will get published and then just disappear in the flood of other books.
Very few writers achieve fame and fortune. But that has never stopped anyone from writing.
So what is it? What keeps you going, year after year, alone, doubting yourself, struggling with the knives and daggers of rejection, wounded over and over and yet picking yourself up from the gutter again and again. Reinventing yourself when all doors seem to be shut. Loosing yourself in another story while the old ones molder unread.
How do you last in this field – that is a mystery – but you do.
You grow two skins. One is tender and sweet, with the poet’s sensitivity and the openness to the flow of words. The other is tougher than rhinoceros hide – that you need that when the rejections begin. Make no mistake, you will always need the rhinoceros hide – even success cannot insulate you.
Would you last as a writer if you knew what was to come? New writers are blissful in their ignorance and older battered writers usually avoid saying anything. What can you say which will not discourage them so greatly that they will go and wait on tables instead?
So why do you write?
You do not write for the externals, for the gains. It is something internal. The act of writing itself.
You don’t write for readers. That comes later and who knows whether you will have any readers or not. You can hope but you cannot be sure. Even successful writers are not sure. I have often heard them say that a book they thought would be a great success flopped and another, written in a spare thoughtless moment, somehow caught the reader’s imagination.
So you do not write for readers.
You write to write.
Something magical happens when you write and especially when you write poetry or fiction. You connect to the creative part of you, what you might call the Muse.
It opens a universe. It takes you out of yourself. It fills you with magic quite unknown in this prosaic, unimaginative world. For that magnificence what will you not do? Everything else is dwarfed by those starry moments.
So perhaps, that is the answer to why you write.
You write for companionship – your own.
You write to meet yourself at the deepest and most profound level. The ancients called it ‘yoga’ – union with yourself.
You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable.
You write to survive and you write to become.
Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.
Thank you to Bhavani Ramesh whose question started this train of thought.