Drumroll, please: The Top Ten Reasons I Love Writing
Let’s face it – you have to really love writing to keep doing it day after day, even on the days when it’s hard, even on the days when you’ve lost all hope of ever figuring out your protagonist’s purpose, where your tangled plot is going, or the inner workings of the mercurial labyrinth that is modern publishing. You have to burn with a heartfelt, almost zealous desire to create something out of nothing. This is what it takes if you’re going to keep banging your head against the keyboard day after day – toiling on blog posts, essays, short stories, poems, or whichever literary form you choose.
“Normal” people don’t write. Crazy people write. But, we’re crazy in all the best ways.
I have explored the question of why we write a few times in posts like What Your Writing Is Missing and How to Get It, Why We Write – A Novel Answer, and earlier this year in a Weekend Edition about Why You Write. But today, I just want to talk about all the aspects of writing that make me smile, squeal with delight, and geek out.
Ready? Here goes …
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Number Ten: Writing gives me an excuse to explore.
In the post Your Writer’s Mind, I wrote, “Writers are like aliens. We explore and dissect, question and document. We study the ways of the human heart and soul with a probing and unflinching eye. The writer’s mind is a many-faceted marvel that defies logic in order to create magic, all within the constraints of twenty-six letters and a few punctuation marks.”
I love the way writing invites me to follow my curiosity, bend the laws of reality, and ask “What if …?” Being a writer gives you permission to ask all kinds of otherwise awkward and nosy questions, all in the name of The Story. It’s like having a press pass to Life.
Number Nine: Writing helps me refine my thoughts.
I believe it was Joan Didion who said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” I totally get that. Writing gives me a reason for thinking deep thoughts, and a process with which to take them apart and put them back together again. I do a lot of “mulling” and “noodling” when I write, which gives me the chance to consider different perspectives, angles, and possibilities. Ultimately, all this going back and forth to polish my initial idea leads me to a place where I have a lot more clarity about what I’m trying to say than when I started out.
Number Eight: Writing gives me time to myself.
I thank my mother for my ability to enjoy spending time with myself. She always encouraged my sister and I to embrace solitude and learn how to be comfortable in our own company. Growing up, I often spent the majority of my day on my own, reading, drawing, building things, or just playing outside with my dog. As an adult, it feels like I have much less alone time, but writing provides a little haven to which I can retreat. Even if I’m sitting in a crowded cafe, the fact that I am immersed in a world of my own creation causes the world around me to fade into the background, leaving me alone with my thoughts. It’s lovely.
Number Seven: Writing is a satisfying creative outlet.
Creative expression is not an optional part of life. It’s mandatory. It’s part of being human. The form of expression we choose can be pretty much anything – writing, painting, dancing, cooking, arranging flowers, styling our outfits – but self-expression is something each of us needs.
Writing gives me the chance to stretch my imagination, create whole worlds, imagine life as someone (or something!) else, and unpack endless possibilities. In short, writing is PLAY. It’s fun. It’s the grown-up version of the playacting I used to do as a kid using dolls, action figures, or even role playing. (My dad still has photos of me and my friend, Anya, dressed as Amazon warriors complete with wooden daggers and leather headbands. We were committed to our characters.)
Number Six: Writing helps me connect with others.
First and foremost, writing helps me connect with the world around me and my ideas about that world. As a writer, I am constantly observing life, other people, natural phenomena, pretty much everything. But, ultimately, I put my writing out into the world, and in this way invite connection with other people. Whether I’m publishing a blog post here on Live to Write – Write to Live, a column in my local paper, or an article in a magazine, my words are like synapses firing between individual minds. It never ceases to thrill me when someone leaves a comment that makes me look at my topic in a whole new light. I’m always delighted when a neighbor tells me how much they enjoyed my column. Putting my words out in the world can be a little scary sometimes, but I’m willing to push past the fear for the chance to connect with another human being, to create a moment of shared experience that makes my world that much easier to understand.
Number Five: Writing lets me geek out on process and over-indulge my notebook habit.
Though I love my creative side, I also have a very Type-A, process-oriented, organization-junkie side. I love outlines, mind maps, and character dossiers. I love sticky notes, color coding, and plot time lines. I love brainstorming, researching, and file naming conventions. I love cool software like Scrivener. Writing lets me play with all these geek toys and processes in the name of art. What could be better?
And then there are all the notebooks, pens, highlighters, and other writerly materials. Did I mention notebooks? I am a sucker for all writing-related goods. I’ve been reading the Levenger catalog from cover to cover for as long as I can remember, and I can’t go to a Staples without picking up a half dozen new notebooks. I have a collection of Moleskine and similar notebooks that I’ve never written in because I don’t want to mess them up. I have favorite pens that I use every day, and others that I hide in case my daughter gets any ideas about “borrowing” them. I lust over old typewriters and letterpress trays. I adore writing-themed mugs, tote bags, and t-shirts. I love pretty much any writing paraphernalia.
Number Four: Writing keeps my mind sharp and challenges me.
No matter how long you live or how hard you study, you will never know all there is to know about writing. This makes me happy. I love that, with writing, I am always learning something new. I am discovering new tools and techniques, learning about other writers, figuring out how story works. I believe that learning keeps us young at heart by keeping us curious and engaged in life. There are so many nuances to writing that I could live to be six-hundred-years-old and still have plenty more to learn.
On a related note, writing constantly challenges me both intellectually and emotionally. Learning and practicing the writing craft is a pursuit that engages my mind in every possible way. It’s like a multi-level puzzle where each layer solved reveals another, more involved layer. Emotionally, writing challenges me to be brave, to put my thoughts and ideas out into the world even though it might make me feel vulnerable.
Number Three: Writing isn’t just an activity, it’s a community.
Though I think I’ll always feel like a bit of a newbie when it comes to being part of the writing community, there’s no denying that writers are a breed unto themselves, and that – as such – we tend to flock together. Blogs, podcasts, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, classes, conferences, readings, writing groups, book clubs, and so on … we writers have an entire network of writing-related communities and hang outs, both digital and “real world.” As I said in a previous weekend edition – You Are Not Alone when you’re a writer … ever. There’s a whole world community of other writers out there who have your back and love all the same geeky writer things you do.
Number Two: Writing requires reading – lots and lots of reading.
Books, books, and MORE books!!!! Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” He also said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And, finally, I recently came across this little gem (also attributed to Mr. King), “When all else fails, give up and go to the library.”
I’m not a big fan of horror, but I kind of love Stephen King.
I love writing because it not only inspires me to read, it also gives me the liberty to consider reading part of my writing work. Each time I read something, I learn something about writing. Whether what I’m reading is setting a good example or serving as a warning, I learn. From vocabulary to voice, story structure to cadence, characterization to character arc, each and every piece of writing I read has something to teach me. Plus, reading is just FUN! It entertains me. It’s an escape from the world that also manages to deepen my connection to the world. Reading helps me process my own thoughts and beliefs while making me feel less alone. Reading brings me dozens of friends in the form of characters in the stories I read as well as the real-life friends who love the same stories I do.
And, the Number One Reason I love writing: Writing makes me more “me.”
For all the reasons I’ve listed above, writing is a practice that puts me in touch with the Real Me. It pulls away the layers of “otherness” that have built up as I’ve grown up. It gets at the core of who I am and helps me define the person I want to be. Over the years, your writing practice creates a roadmap to personal authenticity. It gives you the perspective and insights you need to be the best, most true version of yourself possible.
Last week, I read Robert Beatty’s book, Serafina and the Black Cloak. I picked this middle grade novel up from the library after seeing it advertised repeatedly in the Faerie Magazine email newsletter. I initially borrowed it on behalf of my daughter, but – who was I kidding? – I eventually caved in and read it myself.
It was a quick read, but an enjoyable one. It’s a story I would have loved when I was my daughter’s age. The protagonist is a feisty young girl with a mysterious past, the setting is a beautiful estate surrounded by a foreboding but inviting forest, and there’s a good balance of danger and magic.
I still hope my daughter will read this, so we can compare notes. I’m also keeping an eye out for the second book in what promises to be at least a trilogy, if not a series, and even possibly a movie (the book was published by Disney/Hyperion after all).
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Thanks to a reader who shared the link to this piece in a comment (thanks, confusedandcuriouswriter!), I also read a Brain Pickings piece called How to Save Your Soul: Willa Cather on Productivity vs. Creativity, Selling Out, and The Life-Changing Advice That Made Her a Writer.
The essay includes excerpts from a correspondence between Cather and her friend and mentor, the writer Sarah Jewett. In the letters, Jewett advises Cather to extricate herself from the bonds of her corporate job as the managing editor of McClure’s Magazine, a post that earned Cather a good salary and industry respect, but which did not nurture or advance her writing career.
Ultimately, Cather did leave McClure’s, and went on to write twelve novels, six short story collections, two editions of her poetry collection, and nine non-fiction works. Her stories about pioneer life on the plains have been compared to works by Hemingway and Faulkner in terms of cultural and literary importance. Amazing to think that a writer who created such works and made such an impression on so many might have wasted away at a corporate job if it weren’t for the urgings of a friend and fellow artist.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Brainstorm Questions, Not Solutions by @levib via @99u
- The Secret to My Productivity, Or: Thoughts About Luxury and Privilege by @JaneFriedman
- 48 Hours of Joseph Campbell Lectures Free Online: The Power of Myth & Storytelling via @openculture
- Want to Create Things That Matter? Be Lazy. by Cal Newport via @99u
- What Should Authors Expect to Earn? by Brooke Warner via @shewritesdotcom
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to all the ways we love writing and all the ways writing loves us back. Have a great weekend & I’ll see you on the other side!
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
“10” Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc