Why Do You Write?
Christie Valentine Powell
When reading about writing, I sometimes come across people asking why you want to write, and more particularly, why you want to be published. At first, I had no idea how I should answer the question. The first words coming to mind were “because I have to”. I’m sure every writer daydreams about lots of money, being recognized on the street, dangling hints to adoring fans… but I knew those were not my main purposes. It took a lot of thinking (and writing) to understand why I put myself through this—the hours in front of a screen, the dozens of false starts when trying to get a story going, the rejections when you start attempting publication, the criticism after. Why do I write?
Reason 1: Because I Can’t Stop
I wrote my first story in second grade. It was about a pair of dogs who were left behind in a move and struggled to catch up with their former owners. It covered the front and back of one sheet of paper.
When I was in fourth grade, my family got an ancient computer, and I would beg to go on it and type. I would turn in chapters to my encouraging teacher. The main story was “The Elephant”, which included, among other things, a subplot involving the children of the current presidential candidates’ children learning to get along.
In sixth grade Language Arts, my teacher assigned a journal, in which we could write whatever we liked. I started off, and the plot soon led me to Pokémon, which I had just discovered. I was hooked. Through all of middle school, it was a rare thing to see me without a binder full of scribbled pages clutched to my chest. I told a few people that the best way to save trees would be to steal my pen. A few of my best friends also wrote Pokémon stories, and we enjoyed sharing them and making each other into characters. There is a picture in our 8th grade yearbook of me pouring over a notebook, with the caption “Christie Valentine tallies results from a survey”. I most certainly was not tallying results from a survey.
I finally moved on to non-Pokémon subjects in High School as dreams about publication made their way into my personal journal. I still have many of the small scribbled stories I wrote then. The first, “Keep It Wild”, was about talking animals living on an invented African island. Eventually I started a dystopian story set in the desert around my home that kept me busy through most of college.
One night I had a dream which combined a group of magical people who had lived in my imagination since 7th grade with medieval kingdoms and royalty. It became the spark that led to the Spectra, the manuscript I am working on right now and trying to publish.
Reason 2: To Express Emotion
I started my first journal when I was ten, and have never stopped. Sometimes I wrote to record my doings, but more often, especially when I was around thirteen, I used them to sort out my feelings. I was not encouraged to rant and rave when upset, so writing became my native tongue to express my thoughts and feelings, especially my angry ones. As I practiced, I found that writing helps me to understand the problem and find out how to deal with it. It also helps me to calm down before confronting others. I write other things in my journal as well, but writing is still the way I deal with strong emotion. Writing involves asking questions, and searching to find the words helps me to discover how I really feel.
Reason 3: Control
In my fourteen year old journal, I wrote that I wished life was more like writing, because that was where I felt in control. Being a teenager is hard. You don’t know enough to be in control (though you think you do), and the longing to take charge of your life grates against every person who seems to be trying to shape your life without your say-so. It gets only a little better as an adult. There will always be forces outside of your control, and they will intrude on your life whether you fight or not. Writing is a sanctuary. It’s a place where you make the rules, shape the people, control the world. And in doing so, it teaches you how to manage things, lessons that you can take with you back to the real world.
Reason 4: Learning Skills
One afternoon, the woman driving my high school’s carpool told me that my writing was a waste of time. I knew better than to argue with her, but I also knew she was wrong. I once told my mother that all I needed to do was to wait for the right idea, but I quickly learned better. Writing a good story has very little to do with ideas. It has to do with skill, and skill comes from practice. I still treasure the stories I wrote when I was younger, but even the ones lost forever were not a waste of time, no more than a piece of music is wasted if it is played where no one else can hear.
Writing skills need to be practiced, and those skills can be applied to more than just future stories. We live in a world of reading and writing. Those skills are needed to write essays in school. They are needed to write letters to friends, family, and officials. They are needed to write speeches and lessons, petitions and opinions.
Writing abilities are not the only things learned from crafting stories. They help you learn how to organize your thoughts. They help you learn how to fit ideas together in a way that makes sense. They help you understand people. They help you pay attention to details around you. And they help you to communicate.
Reason 5: Communication
Writing is a form of communication. The whole purpose of writing, the whole reason writing was invented, was to convey information. Expression, control, and learning are ways that writing can help an individual communicate with themselves. Sometimes that’s enough, and those pieces don’t need to be published to fulfil their purpose.
One night when I was around 16, I was pondering about writing when five words came to my mind. “Show them how you see”. That’s what writing is. Deep inside each of us is yearning to connect with others. Writers take a look at their own soul, paste it across a page, and send it into the world. We want people to see who we are. We want to show them how we see the world. We want to offer our souls so that others can see themselves in us and know that they are not alone. That is why we send a piece of our heart into the world, knowing that rejection and criticism will follow. That is why I write.