Why do writers write? Why do we plunge ourselves into the often icy waters where we can face loneliness, voices in our head that can be both liberating and disconcerting, and even exposure to ridicule? Do we chose to write, or does writing chose us, tumbling after us like a ball of fire until it has engulfed us? Author Milan Kundera once said that The writer’s job is to get to see the world as a question.But are our questions actually answered through the process of writing?
It’s something I’ve always been interested in, so I decided to ask some fellow authors where the motivation comes from to keep putting that metaphorical pen to paper. It’s certainly not for the money, nor the fame. With a hugely saturated market and the average working author earning less than £10,500 a year, there must be another pretty good reason why we do what we do. Let’s take a look at what people had to say about this…
From Enormous Smallness by Kris Di Giacomo
Sue Watson ‘It fulfils that need to become someone else and imagine another person’s life.’
Holly Martin‘Living the life I want to live through my words. I wrote Fairytale Beginnings to live the life that I can’t.’
Louise Jensen‘I started writing The Sister after becoming disabled as a way to escape chronic pain. I no longer had the freedom I wanted within my body, but I had the freedom in my mind to create whole new worlds and it was utterly liberating.’
Louise Beech ‘When I got lost in creating stories, something in me calmed and was just… right. I was where I was meant to be. My safe place. Where I was happiest.’
Notice a common thread here? It turns out that it’s not just our audience reading to escape, it is also authors themselves through the very process of writing who would like to find themselves in a better, brighter, more hopeful world; a world in which they can fulfil their dreams vicariously through the lives of their characters or escape difficult situations in their own lives. I know that writing became an anchor for me during prolonged bouts of chronic insomnia. I couldn’t do a great deal else effectively, but the act of writing each and every day helped me to still feel and believe that I was a vital cog in our great wheel of humanity.
Whilst for many writers, the process is something they simply must do, ‘a happy addiction’ of sorts (Caroline Mitchell), another response that came up consistently was the need to get the voices and information out of one’s head and onto the page. As Tracey Sinclairdescribes it, ‘it’s sometimes like downloading information to clear space on a hard drive: I have so many stories and snippets of stories in my head I’d go a bit crazy if I didn’t set them down.’
Catherine Hokin ‘Because the people in my head are often more real than the people around me and their stories want telling.’
Cassandra Parkin ‘The moment when the characters start arguing back and insisting that actually, no, it happened this way, not that way.’
Debbie Rix‘I have voices in my head that need to get out, dialogue that needs to be written and stories that need to be told.’
Marie Laval ‘I have all these characters, images, settings, plotlines, bits of dialogues swirling in my mind all the time! It’s exhausting and I need to get them out and on the page. It’s like dreaming awake.’
John Bowen‘It’s the only place I get to pretend to be lots of other people without getting funny looks.’
Wow. Voices in our heads? What is that really all about? A blog for another day, perhaps.
Writers also come to the page to try and clarify things: our existence, the world around us, conflict, emotions, to articulate the grey space that exists between the black and white.
Claire Seeber‘To work stuff out…life, love, the universe…for hope, for a sheer love of storytelling.
Angela Marsons‘I want to explore motivations and actions and situations and feelings.’
Isabel Allende, one of my early influencers as a writer, has said ‘Writing, when all is said and done, is an attempt to understand one’s own circumstances and to clarify the confusion of existence.’ This resonates with me perfectly. It never came to pass, but I once had a place to study a human rights masters at university. I still feel this intensely; my desire for everyone to be treated as equals and find myself getting very hot under the collar about certain things: injustice, cruelty, racism, discrimination…when I write I pour a great deal of this anger into my stories. Can resolution be achieved? Possibly, possibly not. But the release I feel is palpable.
There’s also writing the kind of book we want to read. Kerry Fisher says ‘I couldn’t seem to find books that dealt realistically with family life but were also funny,’ so she decided to write her own (and why not?) There is also the sheer, unalloyed joy of knowing that your words have brought levity to a person’s day, as exemplified by Carol Wyer: ‘I am motivated every day at the thought of making someone smile or chuckle.’ I love that. Are there many more potent tonics than humour? I think not.
Why we chose to write; to make that our career or just dip our paint brush into fictional, painted worlds now and again is different for all of us. We all want to find a way to leave a mark on this world, no matter how small. Perhaps for writers, putting words down achieves this permanence for us.
Please do add to the conversation – I’d love to know: Why do you write?