I believe that writing is a chore. It is hard work, it is tedious, and I usually don’t want to do it. Most of the time, check that, all of the time my writing is a massive failure. It never quite sounds the way it did in my head; my ideas are never quite as complex yet clear to the reader as I intended. Woody Allen has said that he really doesn’t like his movies because they never turn out the way he envisioned them at the start. And that’s Woody Allen! In the forward to the edition of Brave New World that we have at school where I teach, Aldous Huxley talks about resisting the urge to rewrite most of the book because it didn’t work the way he intended. And that’s Brave New World! I imagine if Shakespeare were alive today he would have to resist the urge to tinker with King Lear.
Not only that, but writing is an action I have to force myself to do. Literally. I have to schedule a time and hold myself to it like a homework assignment. And even then, I might check Facebook first, follow the Royals game online, or read a few emails. Writing is always like a dark shadow hovering over me in a Steven King novel: it’s scary and I want to avoid it.
So, given all of this, why do I write?
Reflexively, I don’t know why. Or, the answer is that I write for a million different reasons. I know sometimes I think about a legacy. Some of it is an attempt, however abstract, to leave something of myself behind. It’s a weak, uninformed stab at immortality. Along those lines, some of it is for forms of expression. I wrote my first novel in an attempt to elucidate my thoughts and feelings on the role of the Old Testament in our modern society. But I also wrote a second novel for my daughters. It didn’t revolve around a theme as grand and explicit as my first novel, at least at the beginning, but it was an opportunity for me to engage in the art of storytelling.
I also write for ego. I like being a writer, but to know in my own soul that I am, I have to actually do it. When I first started playing hockey, a friend of mine joined in, but he really didn’t want to play. He just wanted to own a stick and skates and tell people he played hockey. He wasn’t willing to do the work it took to make the statement real. I found the same thing with the book club I belonged to before leaving to join a writing club. Lots of people were on the book club’s email list, but most of them never, and I mean never, came to the meetings. I think they liked belonging to a book club as an idea. So, I guess part of the reason I write is so I can indulge my ego at dinner parties and say I am a writer.
Of course, it could just be that I write because I am good at it. Or, at least, in the same way that I am good at hockey or basketball or making board games. In other words, I might be better than the average person I bump into on a day-to-day basis, but by no means is anyone offering to pay me for my services. Still, writing helps me define who I am. It’s like the green card in my wallet. People always ask me why I haven’t applied for citizenship in the US. The answer is simple, I’m not American. I define myself as a Canadian; that’s my identity. Roger Ebert once was given an opportunity to have “face replacement surgery”. Literally. They would give him a tongue and a chin and another man’s entire face. He ultimately declined even though it would mean he could do things again like eat and speak because he couldn’t stand the idea of looking in the mirror and seeing another person’s face. So, I write because that helps me define who I am. It gives me another sliver of individuality in the 6+ billion of us jostling around this planet.
But, I also write for that moment, the one all writers feel at one point or another. (Even now, the word “moment” is obviously and woefully inadequate.) I am talking about the moment when the world melts away leaving nothing behind except the writer and the words. Sometimes it lasts for a few minutes, other times it can cause hours to disappear. And it’s not even necessarily good writing as a result. To borrow an overused cliché, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
So, why do I write? I don’t know, but that question really only leaves me with another: why wouldn’t I?
(-; Chris Esch and the Wordwraiths