Why Write When You Could Be_______?

Recently I was asked why I write when I could be making real money? That's a harder question to answer than "what," "when," or even "how" one writes. Every answer you furnish sounds trite, disingenuous, at least to you, most of all to them. Why does anyone do anything?

Maybe I write because it's more than a choice to add words to a page, it's a compulsion, not unlike checking and rechecking locked doors. You revisit the page you've written, making sure you've gotten the words right. You delete sentences, a word, a punctuation mark. Sometimes you cut whole paragraphs. You leave the page only to return and check the same things you'd checked before, because somehow, in the hour or day or week you'd been away, the page changed. So you add a word, delete a word, add or delete a punctuation mark, reorder a sentence, hoping this time the page is done, that the room is closed, finally locked.

I write because there's a lot more writing to be done. It's not true that "there's nothing new under the sun." Everything that's been said can be said better, explored further, more deeply. No one who ever creates art ever hits bedrock.

I write because sometimes when I'm cooking chicken curry for my wife, a sentence enters my head with such force I have to do something about it. The sentence is not my sentence, the voice is not my voice. The sentence is a gift, vivid, yet a perfect mystery whose depths I must plumb. I had forgotten what rain sounded like. Why? She sits in the snow, threading grapes with a needle. Why?

I write because I notice things others don't. For instance, the way water courses through brooks and streams, multiplying its force through channels. But not just its direction, it's the way sometimes single drops leap into the air like atoms and vanish; or that particular infusion of ripe and fermented scents rising from sun-baked hillsides or grape fields, or farms of kale--garlicky, yet sweet, those grand odors of the earth. I write because if I don't put them down on paper, these things might never have existed.

I write because a character enters my mind fully clothed, ready to tell me what he or she wants. And it is my job to unclothe him or her. He might say he's an honest man, or a prevaricator, and I have to explore his voice to see if what he's telling me is true. She might call herself an unrepentant whore, but something tells me she's not, and I have to find the words to discover what happened to her.

Sometimes the words lie. Sometimes their truth is so powerful I can't look at them without thinking they're lies. Sometimes the words are easy to understand and sometimes they're not.

Sometimes I spend all day making something difficult sound simple, or make something simple sound difficult, because life is not always simple, nor always difficult.

I write because I enjoy trafficking in the mundane. I have learned that I don't have to make a five-alarm fire, or burn down a hill, or set a city aflame to add heat to my writing. Sometimes the heat comes from a single match burning in a cold, deserted place.

I write because I am a realist. For me, reality is mysterious enough without me having to invent talking spiders, apocalyptic scenarios, vampire lovers, or witch covens, though I can enjoy those kinds of stories too. Maybe it stems from my love of realist photography, where you see the fleeting moment captured, held in place, and reflected upon. So when an impressionistic boy reveals his heart to his cold, hard-hearted father--a man who loves his child but is incapable of affection--I want to be standing there in the shadows of that room jotting down the details: how they stand, where, when, why, and what are they wearing, why, why not something else, and why are these words being spoken now, and how are they being spoken, etc. etc. Because it is the writer's responsibility to take what's said and unsaid in that room, and make it mean something for all of us, that is to say, to expose the human heart but NEVER to exploit it. It is the writer's responsibility to refrain from sentimentality, to give each character, even the "villains" their due. As an artist it is the writer's responsibility to hold those fleeting moments in place.

I write because if I don't write I feel dead inside.

I write because writing gets me closer to myself, closer to what I really think and feel, and what I think and feel has validity.

I write because writing makes me a better person, better able to adjust to the vicissitudes of life.

I write because my soon-to-be-son will someday want to know me better. At least that's the hope. I want to leave a record of what I thought and felt, just for him.

I write because somewhere there's a writer in a room writing what I wish I wrote. He or she's getting the words that maybe were meant for me. And I'll be damned if I'm going to let that happen! :)

I write because I want to break my readers' hearts with my writing.

I write because writing is the only profession where you're more valuable to the world the older you get.

I write because I'm in love with wisdom, but I'm not always wise.

I write because writing makes me BE.

Maybe I write because I am afraid of death.

(Please feel free to share your own reasons.)

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