Why do people become writers? The question arose during my Creative Nonfiction class at WriterHouse.
One of my classmates, a clinical psychologist, said that people work for three reasons: money, career or mission. I wondered if one could work for all three reasons, for as a teacher, I certainly did. Bills had to be paid – I wasn’t going to work for free, and I enjoyed the various opportunities and advancements in the career field of education. But most of all, teaching was a mission that lasted for 34 years. Then my mission changed to writing.
Most of us won’t make a living as writers. A few like Stephen King become commercial successes and establish careers in writing, but most writers who have to pay the bills either teach or have other jobs. So why do we write?
The Spring Issue of Creative Nonfiction featured a section called Writers At Work with articles about writing personal stories, especially those related to trauma. Often these first drafts are written more for therapy, healing or to vent anger. That’s fine, the authors agreed, go right ahead – but then throw them away or put them aside or in your desk drawer, and be very careful about sharing.
I’ve listened to some therapy “first drafts” in my writing classes – a few of my classmates have openly confessed to writing for that purpose. I’ve written plenty of my own therapeutic first drafts in the process of writing personal essays – the word essay meaning “try.” Sharing therapy first drafts creates an uncomfortable environment and makes feedback very tricky. We’re all baring our souls no matter what we write. But if we’re holding our classmates hostage to angry blaming or self-pity, I think we’ve crossed the line.
Writing is artful storytelling. That takes reflection and crafting, which happens during revision. It’s easy for me to lose that focus, so bent am I on telling the “real” story the way it happened instead of selecting details to serve the story. I have to step back and ask questions.
To what purpose am I writing? What meaning am I trying to communicate in this story, this essay? What belongs here? What belongs in another piece? What belongs in the desk drawer or in the trash? What form would serve the purpose of this piece. What would engage the reader?
Why am I writing?
Why do you write?