Why We Write

There are some interesting threads about writing unraveling over at blogs maintained by two fine writers, Deborah Biancotti and JA Konrath. Rather than post my comments on their blogs, however, I’m going to do so here, thus contributing some column inches to my own otherwise sparse space on the Internet.

Yesterday, [info]deborahb wrote a cautionary meditation on “Being. A. Writer.” that deserves your attention. Today, Konrath, at his nifty A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, posed the questions: Why do you write? Would you continue to write, if your career never got better than it is now? Would you continue to write, if your career became worse than it is now?

The answers Konrath received, and the comments Biancotti generated, are not new, but they’re interesting: writing as therapy, writing as religion, writing as art, and the “I’m a writer because I say I’m a writer” sect balancing out those who contend that “writer” is just another label society puts on us (purportedly to keep us down).

I wholeheartedly agree with Biancotti’s personal decision — and recommendation, “if that path works for you” — to choose Life over “Being.A.Writer.” “Being. A. Writer.” stirs up the same kind of self-defeating desperation that is the hallmark of the lovelorn. “Do you want to write?” many a writing teacher has asked, “Or do you want to be a writer?” There’s a difference.

What is worriesome is the implicit suggestion that writing isn’t work, that it isn’t sometimes hard. “If you don’t enjoy it, do something else,” Biancotti writes in one of her comments to a commentator. Yet the young writer learning her craft — or the old writer continuing to learn his craft — certainly will hit those brick walls where writing is anything but fun. “There is nothing to writing,” Red Smith wrote. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Was Oscar Wilde enjoying himself when he worked “on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again”? As someone named Anonymous once wrote, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Still, I often think of Buck Henry‘s response on The Tonight Show many, many years ago (when I was a teen) when Johnny Carson asked him if he enjoyed writing: “It beats digging ditches.”

Yes, way too much importance is placed on “Being. A. Writer.” But we’re not alone. Actors, for instance, partake of the same sort of self-aggrandizement at the altar of what they see as their holy chore (it’s what makes them — or at least some of them — suffer James Lipton week after week and think that anybody really cares “What is your favorite word?”). We just need to get over ourselves and… write.

After all, do wannabe plumbers lose sleep about wanting to plumb? Do they represent themselves as plumbers when they haven’t actually been paid for their work? Do they plumb for free? 


(Samples of both Deborah Biancotti and JA Konrath’s work may be found online, though I would be remiss if I did not caution that both tales, especially Konrath’s, are not for the faint of heart. [You’ve been warned.] Check out Biancotti’s flash fiction piece “Rope Artist” in the online magazine Shadowed Realms, and Konrath’s “The Confession” in the equally online Hardluck Stories. As well, visit both their blogs regularly. You won’t be disappointed.)>

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