When asked the question “Why write?” famed American author Joan Didion (1934-Present) rejoined, “I write to discover what I’m thinking.” It’s a succinct answer, but surely there must be more to it than that? After all, there’s no shortage of writing where it’s none too clear that much thinking, if any, went into it.
To garner an understanding on why people write, perhaps we must first recognize that the overwhelming majority of people do not write. Writing is a solitary art, which, if produced thoughtfully, takes focus (see Gain Focus, Gain Success…) and concentration. This equates to requiring peace and quiet, and in a day and age where interruption is the norm, this can be difficult to accomplish.
The writer must then be diligent in guarding against these intrusions, and in doing so often comes across aloof, if not anti-social. It takes self-discipline (see Self-Discipline: The Cornerstone of Meaningful Action…) and a certain type of personality to forego social contact for the loneliness of a keyboard or the simplicity of paper and pen.
Celebrated American author J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) was a known recluse even though he wrote one of the most famous American novels of the 20th century, namely Catcher in the Rye. Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) of Gulag Archipelago fame was another who surrounded his property with barbed wire during his exile from the Soviet Union in Vermont. (Albeit this may have had more to do with his fear of the Soviet KGB than any tendency to be alone. Although I gather the former probably only helped justify the latter.)
Besides massaging the mind’s thought processes, writing is often a means to an end. The very act is larger than life. It impresses upon the world an outlook that survives beyond the author. It’s a poor man’s pathway to immortality. While others may build business empires and govern countries, it’s the works of authors that continue to live on. If not hundreds, but thousands of years later, we continue to read and recite the world’s great writers.
Perhaps then it’s the insatiable appetite for life that drives the writer forward on a quest for immortality through the written word. Viewed in this manner and passion aside, there’s much at stake for the writer. It’s not just an attempt at “discovering what one is thinking” as Ms. Didion eloquently stated, but even more alluring is the reward of life after death through one’s written accomplishments. Could this be the great motivator buried beneath the writer’s obsession with sentence structure, punctuation and grammar?!
Maybe, but no one can ever be certain what motivates one to pluck at a keyboard or spread ink to paper for hours on end. There’s no guarantee that what’s written will be read or even cared to be read. It’s a nebulous thing this writing métier and writers do so at their own peril. But perhaps it’s exactly therein that the beauty of the whole venture lies: one never knows…
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