Why We Write

I spent the afternoon listening to the book idea and life stories of a brand-new-to-the-game author whose manuscript I’ll be typing.

The timing was interesting because earlier that day I’d decided I wanted to write a blog post on the reasons a person might be driven to write. There’s been much said (written, I mean) on the process and the mechanics and the how-tos. I’ve run across much less on the subject of the why-tos. But I’ve often pondered the subject for myself. Why do I write? Why must I write?

I mused on the subject on the way to the new author’s house to discuss his project. It didn’t take long into the discussion for me to understand that he was driven to write his first book for the same reasons I’ve written … um … I don’t even have a head count of mine at the moment. More than twenty, anyway.

Driven is the right word. While much writing advice floating around at large is along the lines of, “Just do it! Just treat writing like you’d treat any other job. Just get your butt in the seat and your fingers on the keys,” my mantra would be, “If you have nothing to say, say nothing.” (The world has enough bad books methinks!)

I don’t want writing to be like any other job for me. If whatever I have to say isn’t a fire shut up in my bones, burning its way out one way or the other, I’ve learned that I probably don’t want to bother trying. The world has enough bad books, and I’ve written my share of several chapters of partials and false starts of them. If I’m writing just to write, I can’t write at all. Nothing worth writing, anyway.

There are certainly times “Just get your butt in the seat and your fingers on the keys,” is good advice. I don’t think it’s good advice when there are no ideas to begin with. (Have I mentioned yet that I think the world has enough bad books?) There is a difference between starting with an idea one finds captivating–then needing to row one’s way through the doldrums to bring it to completion–and starting with no idea at all. Starting just to start. You’ll only get so far blowing on your own sail.

But to each his own! It’s maybe just that I’ve learned that the common advice is bad advice for me. It may help fill some time, but I’ve never come away with a product I’m happy with whenever I’ve tried writing just to write; treating writing like a job. It might be a different story if someone was paying me to write, but seeing no one’s paying me to do it, I prefer not to treat writing like a job. I prefer to treat it like a passion. I don’t see any point in coming away with a product I’ll never be happy with.

But all this doesn’t address the question, “Why are some driven to write?” Granted! The reason some of us write is because we’re driven to. But why?

I think the answer is simple. We want to communicate.

That was the obvious fact I picked up in my discussion this afternoon. My new-author friend has been driven to write his book because he wants to communicate the ideas that captivated him.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that most of us who find ourselves captivated by an idea can’t rest contented with just being captivated ourselves. It doesn’t have to be writing. Any creative endeavour manifests the same way. People who try out for singing contests, etc. aren’t content just to sing to themselves in the bathroom with a hairbrush for a mic. They want to be heard. I journal sometimes, and I really only journal when I feel that fire shut up in my bones, burning its way out, but I’ve noticed something odd. I always journal as though I’m writing to someone other than myself. Even when I’m writing only to myself, I find myself writing in such a way as to communicate. What is it that drives us to communicate?

I think the answer is very simple: We want to be known. We are relational beings.

This longing I’ve noticed in myself is held in tension with a catch-22: I don’t want to be too known. I’ve grown slightly more calloused now, but the first steps I took towards making anything I’d written public (or even letting anyone know that I’d written anything) were accompanied by a terrified shrinking-back from having any eyes other than my own encounter it. The sensation of deep and abiding shame of being too known still has me scrambling for a handful of fig leaves to patch together every time. It’s the ol’ Genesis 3 quandary that is unavoidable when relational beings become relationally broken: We long to be known. But we dread being too known.

All this line of thinking I’ve traced many times as to why I find myself driven to write always leads me back to God and His Book. Yet again, in this drive of mine, I see the truth that His Book proclaims as the most basic fact of life: We were made for relationship. It’s the meaning of life. We were created to be relational beings because God is the All-relational Being. “God is love.” He, too, longs to be known. Why else would He be driven to write us a Book?

Interesting that “the Word” is one of the names of God the Son. This desire to communicate with us, to be in relationship with us (and all relationship is dependent on communication), drove God to communicate with us not just through a Book but in person. But how instructive that this desire to communicate, to be in relationship, is so basic to the nature of God that He chose the name “the Word” for one of His names!

And there we have it! Why do we write? (Those of us who do, that is!) Probably, because we’re driven to. And why are we driven to? Because we’re driven to communicate. And why are we driven to communicate? Because we’re driven to be known. And why are we driven to be known? Because we’re relational beings, created in the image of the All-relational One.

That’s what it boils down to: we write because we’re image-bearers. We write, we communicate, because God does. He was the original Author, and His was the original story He’s been writing since the beginning of time. That’s reason enough for me to write, I guess. Because God does.

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