Why do I write?
I write to understand. I write to escape. I write to reflect on life. I write because I have a voice within that cannot be still.
To quote some of the greats:
“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s something to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about.”
— Nicole Krauss
“I write in spurts. I write when I have to because the pressure builds up and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really under way, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little. It’s a very undisciplined way of working and makes me not very prolific. But I’m too interested in many other things.”
— Susan Sontag
“I write as if I’ve lived a lot of things I haven’t lived.”
— Margaret Atwood
“It just happens to be the way that I’m made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.”
— Haruki Murakami (Norwegian Wood)
“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself … It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”
— Harper Lee
“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words.”
— Orphan Pamuk
“It didn’t occur to me that my books would be widely read at all, and that enabled me to write anything I wanted to. And even once I realized that they were being read, I still wrote as if I were writing in secret. That’s how one has to write anyway—in secret.”
— Louise Erdrich
“When I’m writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.”
— Maya Angelou
“Writing eases my suffering . . . writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.”
— Gao Xingjian
“Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.”
— Anaïs Nin
“I write to understand as much as to be understood.”
— Elie Wiesel
“I believe that one reason I began writing essays—a form without a form, until you make it—was this: you didn’t have to borrow from an emotionally and visually upsetting past, as one did in fiction, apparently, to write your story. In an essay, your story could include your actual story and even more stories; you could collapse time and chronology and introduce other voices. In short, the essay is not about the empirical ‘I’ but about the collective—all the voices that made your ‘I.'”*
— Hilton Als
“I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”
— Anne Frank
“Why am I compelled to write? . . . Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger . . . To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit . . . Finally I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing.”
— Gloria E. Anzaldúa
“Writing is the body for that which has no body. It does not lead to any certainty, but to doubt and confusion. Endless questioning. Another kind of death.”
— Adonis, ‘Celebrating Al-Ma’Ari’, Selected Poems (trans. Khaled Mattawa)
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
— Virginia Woolf
“You ask me why I spend my life writing?
Do I find entertainment?
Is it worthwhile?
Above all, does it pay?
If not, then, is there a reason…?
I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.”
— Sylvia Plath
And to finish with the always wonderfully astute and sharp Hannah Arendt (hey, she was an INTP, after all 😉 :
“I’d say the most important thing for me is to understand. Writing is an integral part of the process of understanding. You ask about the effect my work has on others. If I may speak ironically, that’s a masculine question. Men always want to be influential. Do I see myself as influential? No, I want to understand.”*