Why We Write

I’ve always been fascinated with writers. From an early age I wanted to know more about these strange alchemists who were able to write such interesting and compelling stories, who were able to move me and make me feel things about people that didn’t even exist. I know a lot of people are likewise captivated.

It took me a while to realize that life is not really so much like fiction as we might think. In fiction, the hero never lets you down, or at least not for long and not at the climax of a story. Life, however, doesn’t seem to like playing by the same rules as fiction. For all its complexity, fiction can only ever be a dim shadow of reality, a simplistic picture of a complicated situation.

In life, that’s what happens with our heroes. They inevitably let us down. No matter who you idolize or love, they will eventually say or do something that is deeply wrong or stupid, or make a fool of themselves. I quickly realized that my authorial heroes weren’t perfect, and their lives were often a wreck and a ruin, even while things seemed to always work out in their fiction.

I’ve also marveled at what motivates people to write. It’s a rather odd thing to do, when you think about it. To sit alone in a room and make up words and events and people that aren’t there, all for the reading pleasure of real people who also aren’t there. Why someone chooses to write has always puzzled me, and I speak this as someone who has been writing since around the age of fourteen or so.

So what makes me write? I confess that I am not sure. On one level, I write because ideas get stuck in my head and won’t leave me alone until I get them out. In that way, writing is a means of processing internal things, after a fashion. I get the idea for a character or a story and it won’t leave me alone until I get it out on paper, and then I am able to move on.

On a slightly deeper level, I write in order to process my own emotions and my own internal struggle. This isn’t as uncommon as one might be tempted to think. In this case, I have to write because I’ve gotten mentally hung up on one thing or another and I can’t move on until I’ve expressed it. This happens a lot in my non-fiction writing. You become obsessed with certain ideas until you “put them out there,” so to speak, and this act of externalization drains it out of you so you can move on to new things.

The second book in my Word and the Sword series (due out this early fall) was like that. It is a strongly personal book. It wasn’t originally, simply outlined and put away in a drawer until it was time to write, and then I went through some personal and very painful experiences I needed to process emotionally, experiences that broke who I was before and began a process of reshaping and regrowing in new directions. I was drawn back to that story because my subconscious realized the thematic material in that book was very similar. So I sat down and started to write. And I was unable to stop until the book was finished. Stopping only for meals and a few hours’ sleep, I wrote for five whole days, and then it was done. And this was a rather freeing moment, too, when I had pushed those emotions and that mental conflict out of myself onto the page. Resolving the story helped resolve personal issues for myself. Writing can sometimes be that.

In fact, writers often report being “driven” to write, by the muse, by God, or by the devil. Whatever label they choose to put upon it, the interest in writing is often experienced psychologically by the writer as compulsion, as a wild, driven nature that compels them to get the words on the page. Choice is one of the great themes of literature; compulsion is one of the great themes of writers.

This does much to explain the eccentric behavior of writers, and I admit that I am no stranger to neurosis in my personal life. It tends to attract a certain amount of unsettled identity. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that writers are mentally ill, it doesn’t hurt for them to be a bit odd. The act of writing is an act of thinking sideways, and it takes a certain sideways mind to sustain a career doing this sort of thing for a living.

But on the other hand, there must be more than drive. As I said about my own experience writing the second book in my series, it was a means of emotional expression and processing. When I finished the book, I felt a grand release of tension. I wasn’t caught up in whatever internal conflict I had had before. But I didn’t stop writing. A lot of writers put all their emotional issues into a single book, or become very popular very quickly because they are using their fiction as a means of resolving their own internal issues. The danger here is that, once resolved, the drive that pushed them into writing in the first place is now gone and the push to keep writing vanishes. Their ideas dry up.

So there has got to be something beyond compulsion that lends itself to writing. I cannot speak for other writers, only for myself. But for myself, I keep writing because I love writing. I love the development of a story, the process of breaking a story down, outlining, and the act of creation. I love the early energy and life of the first act, and I love the tough slog of the middle act, and the ramp up and thrill of the third act and resolution. Because, for me, every book I write is an act of growth. The new themes that come up take me in new directions, leave behind the old me and take me on to new horizons. I never stop growing as a person, so how could I stop writing?

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