A few weeks ago, we asked the question each of us has probably been asked many times: Why do we write? We had a few people answer both online and offline and the general theme of the responses was simple: “I write because I can’t not write.”
This was always my answer in the past, too. But after a few years of basically not writing, at least not writing in the way I always used to write because I “had to”, I’ve started doubting that answer. I mean, if I’m being honest here, I’ve successfully not written much of anything for quite some time, so clearly I am actually quite capable of not writing.
Yet, I feel like I am – and should continue to be – a writer.
The reason I say this is because I have stories to tell. A lot of them. Stories that are unique to me and only able to be told by me. Sure, I’ve already told a lot of stories, some really good, some less good. But I know I have a lot more in me because they are all trying to come out in one way or another.
I’ve been reflecting on my creative struggles a lot recently. Most of the struggles are due to outside factors such as work, kids and life. But some of them are definitely simply related to inertia – now that I’m not writing regularly it is easy to continue to not write regularly. It’s just like going to the gym every day — when you’re in the habit, you just keep going to the gym each day, even if you don’t feel like it. But if you skip a day, it is much easier to skip the next day, and the next day, and the next.
And so here I sit, worn out from the daily grind but still full of creative energy. I’m so tired when I sit down to write that I tend to drift off to sleep almost immediately upon beginning to write, my head nodding slowly down, hovering slightly above the laptop keyboard. It’s not that the stories aren’t there for the telling, it’s that they can’t type themselves!
So what is my answer when I’m asked “Why do you write?” As I mentioned, it always used to be “I write because I can’t not write.” But now I’ve got a different answer:
“I write because I have stories to tell.”
Is there really a difference in these answers? I suppose in the grand scheme of things there is not much of a difference in them. The small detail of actually putting words on the page is there, looming larger than life no matter how I might phrase my answer. But if you parse those two answers carefully, there is a subtle difference. One makes writing be almost like a chore – something I must do, something that is required. The other gives a more rational explanation and a more realistic expectation – the writing is about the story being told, not about the writing being done. I tell stories all the time, wild and whimsical tales of excitement or woe, epic victories and massive defeats, paper bags and plastic bags. Stories that make my kids roll their eyes at me and stories that make my kids’ friends laugh at how odd I am. The stories are there and they come out, whether I get them on paper or not.
And so, I am a writer. I am a writer because I have stories to tell and I tell them. The next step is to get back into putting them down on the page so that they can be shared outside of the small circle of people who ride back and forth in my car as we go to baseball games or band events. Maybe then I can get back to the simpler answer of writing because I can’t not write. But until then I will keep telling my stories and I hope you will keep telling your stories, too.
Well done, Rob, thoughtful post. I’ve had a similar slump regarding my personal blog (haven’t written a post in many months) but I’ve been active with my books, revising for final time. I consider this kind of writing the “quiet corner” stuff, where I focus on writing my story, or the queries, on the way to contacting agents, on the way eventually to publication.
Like you, the story ideas occupy my brain, new ones generating. It’s a subtle difference whether I write because I can’t not write, or because I have stories to tell. Having a story to tell, I must write it. At this point, both avenues are connected and active.
Well stated. I find myself agreeing. At this point in my life–kids grown, day job not terribly demanding–if write because I can’t NOT write. But when my life was at that point you are–lots of family responsibilities, demanding job–it was easy to skip it for years. And I did. In fact, I didn’t consider myself a writer until well after the kids gave me time to write.
I like the way you said this. It makes sense to me. Like you, I am a story teller. I do need to tell stories, but often that is done by talking, short emails to friends, etc. Writing in my blog is something that isn’t always easy to keep up. Life interferes, things happen.
But the stories are always there.
I am sitting here fighting that same inertia. Thank for putting it down on paper and also letting me know I’m not alone!
This reminds me of Anthony Trollope’s autobiography where he says he wrote not because he wanted to tell a story, but because he had a story to tell. (My paraphrase from memory is no doubt inadequate. But still.)