Why Do We Write?

[English 275: The Craft of Writing Final Essay]

All good writing begins with a question. -Gary Schmidt

In a society where the market is narrow and rejection letters are frequent, where time to read to your children or to yourself is obsolete, where books are scorned in favor of Internet sources, why is it that every bookstore and coffeehouse has its own writing group?  Why are there more workshops and how-to manuals about the craft of writing than we know what to do with? Why do we keep writing?  What is so special, so important, about the craft of writing that, no matter how hard our society tries, we cannot get rid of it?

 

If craft is something done or created by hand, writing cannot really be considered a craft, for, though it is carried out by the hands, it is done with the heart.  It is done because deep in our hearts are struggles, quandaries, perplexities, questions that gnaw at us.  They are the questions we want to ask God but can’t, questions that have no answers (yet).  But writing lets us ask those questions in hopes that somewhere on the page, in the words or in between them, we might catch a glimpse of the solution.  If we don’t—and we never do—we at least find some peace in asking.  So we ask because we can’t help it.  Because writing allows us to question who we are, why we’re here, and what we should do between now and that last moment where we offer up our final benediction and, hopefully, begin to discover some answers.

 

So we do it for this—for the promise of answers to the questions that keep us awake at night.  But what does writing do for us?

 

Writing allows us to see beauty and life.  We learn how to find meaning in even those things that seem insignificant, how to draw significant connections between two bits of insignificance, and how to connect ourselves to it all.  Writing helps us witness creation and our humble place in it; it also helps us begin to see our Creator.

 

Writing allows us to laugh.  We can be frustrated and irreverent and insufficient, and writing lets us know our place so we can laugh at our frustrations and deal with suffering with a light heart.  Writing helps us march on, like words across a page, despite our struggles with cellulite or the presidential administration.  After all, as Anne Lamott said, “What is there to do in such difficult, violent times” but write?

 

Writing allows us to grow. Writing helps us find our voice, helps us tell our own story, and we begin to realize the importance of stories, even if they aren’t true stories because in reality, they are true stories. Writing gives us a chance to understand the necessity of telling them, passing them, using them, savoring them, and keeping them alive because they, in turn, keep us alive—keep us living, growing.

 

Writing allows us to rejoice but it also allows us to cope—with “faith and heartbreak, desire and pain, love and grief, the joyous and sorrowful mysteries by which we keep track of our lives and times,” as Thomas Lynch said.  Writing allows us to express the inexpressible and understand that which cannot be understood.  It gives us comfort.  It gives us peace.  It helps us know that we will never know, not here anyways.  While bombs explode and wars rage, while family members sicken and no cure is found, writing calms us, assures us that, eventually, things will be right again.

 

Writing allows us to worship.  It is an often reverent—sometimes irreverent—prayer.  Help me.  Give me. Bless me.  Hear me. Thank you. It is an act of worship and praise and thanks. According to Luci Shaw, when prayers are “never,” we write because “tailoring a poem satisfies [us] better.”  Because writing helps us say words uneasily said, it helps us face our Creator and try to explain ourselves—our mistakes, our confusion, our unanswered questions, even our efforts to do something right for once.  Lord, I used everything you gave me…


Appreciate.  Laugh.  Grow.  Cope.  Worship.  There is no other craft that lets us encompass all these things the way putting pen to paper does.  As Walt Whitman said, “I must utter poem as a tree utters leaves.”  We write because it is natural.  It is necessary.  It is good.  Deep in the heart is desire, the need to make sense of all this; it is the desire that forces us to try to understand what the point is.  We cannot deny it.  We write because we must; it is our mandate.  To give voice, to cry out, to question why we are here and ask before anything else how then we shall live.


 

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