I Love to Write Day (15 November) was started in 2002 by US writer John Riddle, who ‘wanted a day set aside so that everyone, no matter their age, could spend some time writing. It doesn’t matter what people write as long as they write what they want to’.
It got me thinking about some of the reasons why I write:
There is nothing like a good book to take me away from the present. I first developed a love of reading as a young child. It was a means of escaping my physical world and inhabiting the lives of others. Soon, I was also escaping into my own imagination. I created characters who were brave and adventurous, who stood up to bullies and got the boy, all things I didn’t think were true of me at the time. That love of escaping into the world of the imagination (mine or others) has never left me.
To reflect and ruminate
I don’t write as therapy per se, but I’m finding it benefits my wellbeing anyway, as I process what I think and how I feel about a whole range of experiences and ideas. As Joan Didion once said: ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’
Earlier this year, I spent a month not working on my current project as I dealt with some difficult emotions arising from that work-in-progress. However, I continued to journal in the form of my morning pages (three pages, long hand, whatever is in my head, not intended to be shared with anyone else). It is a habit that continues to sustain me as I dive deeper into how I think and feel about my past and present experiences.
To find my voice
Reflecting about what I think and feel also serves to help me find my voice, after a lifetime of folding myself into the views and expectations of others. I’m still a work in progress in this regard; however, writing helps me work out who I was before I started believing what I thought others wanted me to be, and to become unapologetically me once more.
To give voice to ‘invisible’ stories
Just as I was about to embark on researching and writing Many Hearts One Voice, I read an article by Melanie Oppenheimer in which she lamented “the increasing invisibility of women in the war narrative”. Giving voice to those sidelined to the margins and footnotes of history became a primary motivator for taking on this project. Where possible, I’m also keen to find ways to empower others to tell their own story in their own voice and the unique perspectives they bring to the world.
I write in the hope that my work will be read by others, and that they will know they are not alone. One of the reasons I’m currently writing a memoir about my experiences of mothering a seriously ill child is so that other parents know they are not alone in their experience. Although I hope my story ends up appealing to a wide range of readers, I remember what it was like to meet other parents of heart kids and realise, I’m not the only one.
To dive deeper into the complexity of our messy world
There is so many binary views in our world today. I could blame social media for the rise of this black-and-white, either/or thinking, but perhaps it’s always been there and is simply more visible due to the instant nature of social media and the 24/7 news cycle. As I’ve got older, I’ve started seeing that there is often room for both/and thinking and multiple perspectives to co-exist if we take the time to truly listen to understand. So, I partly write to explore the complexity and nuances of our messy world.
To play and create
If you can overcome the fear of the blank page and enter into the flow of creating without worrying about an ‘end product’, there can be joy in writing for creativity’s sake. Creating something from nothing, watching as it emerges and takes shape can be reward in itself. Although I find first drafts agonisingly difficult, I do love seeing the piece develop and take shape through the editing process.
Of course, nothing is truly created out of nothing, as we don’t live in a vacuum. Everything I create draws on my life experiences, other texts I’ve read, current and historical events, images and sounds of the world around me, even my own past jottings and writings. Nothing is ever really wasted, either. Instead it all helps form the leaf litter falling from the tree of our creativity to form a rich compost of ideas.
To encourage other writers
Engaging honestly in the writing process helps me as a teacher and mentor. Years ago, I was teaching a group of year 11 students who had to write a short story based on an autobiographical incident. These students were reluctant readers and writers, and I wondered how on earth I was going to help them fulfill the task. In the end, I undertook the task as well, showing them in real time my drafting and editing process, from the crappy first draft to my final, polished piece—the importance of understanding that there’s a vast difference between our crappy first draft and someone else’s published piece that’s benefited from the revising and editing process. This was really where my love of mentoring other writers started.
Because I can’t not write
I’ve tried. There have been times in my life when I’ve procrastinated so much that I’ve found it difficult to justify calling myself a writer. And there have been times that life has taken over. When my daughter was born with a complex heart condition, I gave myself permission not to write for six months as I focused on learning to mother a seriously ill child. However, four months in, I was offered the opportunity to write a short piece about that experience. As I started writing, something came alive in me, and I realised that this was one thing I could not give up.
But this doesn’t mean I write constantly or even consistently. Nor do I always write well. Fear, procrastination, distractions, comparison and the weight of the world all seek to rob me of the joy of simply creating.
Writing can be hard work, and I’m often juggling competing demands on my time and my mind, the biggest of which is my to-do list of tasks other than actual writing.
Even once I am sitting down in front of an open page (or laptop) I don’t always love writing. I especially find first drafts frustratingly difficult. I very much relate to whoever stated, ‘I don’t love writing, but I love having written’. (Versions of this have been linked to numerous writers as outlined by Quote Investigator.)
Perhaps an alternative title for this blog post could be ‘Why I Haven’t Given Up Writing Yet’.
Why do you write or create?