Why I Write

Of course I stole the title from this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:




In many ways writing is the act of saying I, imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating, but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.

-Joan Didion, from The New York Times Magazine, December 5, 1976

During my senior year in college, I took a writing course on Creative Nonfiction; our professor called it something like “Literature B.” I love that name because it reminds of the B-side of a single — it’s not the feature track, but it can be just as interesting and sometimes more original.

Our first assignment was to write an essay on “Why I Write.” After many years of avid journal writing — starting with a 4th grade hardback diary that had a lock — I struggled to come up with an answer. I have many happy memories of writing from a very early age, whether it was diligently practicing my print and cursive letters with my mom, or writing out highly detailed descriptions of the world on the ancient royal blue family typewriter. By the time I was in high school, I would write in my journal to process my so-called life while listening to all of the Lilith Fair ladies (Sarah, Jewel, Indigo Girls, etc, etc.) And when the college years arrived, I chronicled life in my Bible of a grid-lined journal. Now that I have entered a new decade of life, I have moved into a one-line-a-day journal that is supposed to live for 5 years if I do it right. At this point, one might imagine that I would have an eloquent response for why it is that I feel compelled to write.

I have boiled it down to three basic reasons:

1. It makes me happy.

2. I like to save writing. People hoard and save and collect many different things in this life, and for me I love to save the record of my life in my journals, my school work (dork, I know), my email exchanges with girlfriends, notes and letters from family and friends…

3. I am a reader. Readers are writers and vice versa because we love language and the way it sounds and the way it looks on a page, the way it can fundamentally change how we think and feel.

So. While I harbor no dreams of becoming a poor-girl’s Carrie Bradshaw (no way could I do the whole “I couldn’t help but wonder” convention), I do think there is space in my life to write and perhaps there always will be. Zen Buddhists believe that it is important to clear out old ideas in the closet of our minds so that we have room for fresh/new/alternative ways of thinking, and I will consider this my space to process the old and the new.

One response to “Why I Write

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