Life: Why Write?

“Why write? Why write at all?”
-Edward Abbey

Why write? It’s a big question, and an attempt to answer it could probably spark a more lively debate than the recent presidential ones. In answer to his own question, Edward Abbey joked: “I write mainly for the money. Only a blockhead would write for anything else.” But then he revealed some of his deeper motivations, including the idea that “Through the art of language…we communicate to others what would be intolerable to bear alone.” Beautifully put. I was thinking about this question the other night when I was writing. I got so frustrated at what I was working on that I started crying. Seriously. And then the next morning, when I returned to my laptop with a cup of coffee and read it again, it didn’t stink that bad. I thought then that it could have been mended. The obvious question followed: why do I do this? And the answers came just as easily: I love writing. I want freedom in my work and schedule. No one else in the world is going to say it for me. I have a lot of hate, too, and writing tempers it. I am nobody without words, nobody without love. And maybe if I could say something that meant something to somebody else, it would make a difference.

If anyone out there would like to reveal the reasons for why you do what you do, please feel free to leave a comment. And I’ll leave you with what one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), has to say about her life’s motivations:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Until his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Abbey, Edward. Abbey’s Road. New York: Plume Printing, 1979.

Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924;, 2000. October 16, 2008.

Photo: taken near Abbey’s canyon country at Indian Creek, Utah.


7 responses to “Life: Why Write?

  1. Shawna Macnamara

    I hope I didn’t case this question with my whole blog deletion thing….I haven’t written, really WRITTEN in a long long time. I blame roommates, and displacement. I hope my private writers block will end soon. In the meantime, I am drinking wine and watching Nacho Libre. XO!

  2. I write to be a witness… for me, for others; I write to live; I write to help others; I write to sort, to discover, to be honest. I’ve been writing, seriously writing (journaling, poetry, fiction, nonfiction) since I was six–and that’s nearly 30 years ago now. Writing is a necessity in my life, a passion and a catalyst. Write on, people.

  3. p.s. Love the Dickinson poem, T. One of my favs, too, and one I’ve quoted/recited often.

  4. The Indian Creek photo looks familiar! We’re climbing near Castleton this week – Fine Jade and Jah-Man on Sister Superior.

  5. “…the reasons for why you do what you do…”

    I’m most definitely not a writer, I’m not a “creator” either except possibly as a byproduct. What I do and do well is compete. If it’s a competition or can be made into one I’m there. I don’t have to win (though it helps motivate me if I’m competitive), but if I don’t have the competition driving me I get bored very fast. Sometimes it’s against other people, sometimes it’s just against myself. I enjoy the strategizing, the preparation with a goal in mind, and the success or progress made in the event.

    I’m still young enough to compete physically in a lot of things, but my largest hurdle recently is making the slow transition to things that I can carry on competing in as I age.

    Sometimes I wish I had a deeper purpose in life, but this is always what I come back to in the end.

    ps. Love your adventures.

  6. That blockhead quote is great–it was Samuel Johnson’s originally. But he also said the purpose of writing was to make the world better, which I believe too.

    For many years my writing was journalistic, and I considered it a public service, then got an MFA and have been writing a memoir and otherwise writing more personally. My feeling is that also is an attempt to give a gift to the world, or should be.

    My work tends to be driven by narrative, which I love, and may not be Ivory Tower enough for many of the literary journals. That is, not personal enough or subjectively deep enough. I’m working on that, but with reservations. Because while I think there’s value in deeply personal and subjective moments caught in prose, some of it just seems So what to me. I’m reading a book of poetry right now and am kind of embarrassed for the writer, as he seems so petty. Not that we are not all that way at moments. But still. What’s your big project, man? I love writing because it uses the self to get at something larger.

    I love what the great writer Marilynne Robinson said in the recent Paris Review: “The best essays come from the moment in which people really need to work something out.”

  7. Thank you all for your comments here. I think we sometimes gain energy from telling stories of the things we love. Reading or writing or climbing or competing or watching Nacho Libre (great film, by the way…)–these things make us tick, and I’m feeling the passion and energy here. Thank you for the jump start. I have quit banging my head up against the wall and started writing without whimpering again. –traci

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