#amwriting But Why?

This was the first week of no classes at uni and it was a lonely week with no writing banter. Writing is a solitary experience so I’ve been using Twitter to connect with other writers. It’s like a virtual water cooler or my trips to the photocopier in my last job where you’d hear all the office gossip.

In case you’re not on Twitter, a hash tag is simply a way for folk to search for tweets that have a common topic and to begin a conversation. A popular hash tag used by writers is #amwriting and it’s a good way to learn from others and share the ups and downs of writing. But I wonder how many writers using the #amwriting hash tag actually stop and ask themselves, WHY am I writing?

“Why do you write?” was the first question my mentor asked us when we met him last week to discuss our dissertation ideas. Myself and two others from my MLItt class are very lucky to be given the chance to be mentored by the acclaimed writer and filmmaker, Ewan Morrison.

He has just launched a new book, ‘Tales from the Mall’ that you really should get your mitts on as it’s been described by Catherine O’Flynn, Costa prize winning author, as “A wonderful and important book”.

Ewan asked us to quickly make up a list of the positive and negative reasons for writing and to be honest!  The two lists made interesting and sometimes cringe worthy reading. As they say on the X Factor, in no particular order, here is the group’s results.

Negative                                                                            Positive

Money                                                                                  Social/political commentary

Status                                                                                   Escapism

Self-aggrandisement                                                          Entertainment

Self-indulgence                                                                   Ethics/philosophy

Revenge                                                                               Experiment with language

The list was not extensive but it was enough to get us discussing the good and bad reasons for writing and to analyse the ones which related most to our own ambitions as writers. How many writers would be willing to admit that they believe that they might make a lot of money writing books, that they will be famous and will be respected and remembered? But even if you’re prepared to admit that fame and fortune were your original writing goals, for the vast majority of writers, that will not be the case and this means they need to work out the other reasons why they write.

For me, it is the love of words and a creative outlet that I can’t imagine ever giving up. I’ve always been an avid reader and I now have the egotistical desire to be a creator rather than just a consumer. I love writing or there would be no point in locking myself away for hours on end. And I definitely wouldn’t have given up a permanent job to do the MLitt course if I didn’t feel passionately about writing. Writing is part of who I am.

All I need to do now is get my head around why I need to write this particular story.  After endless revisions, I need to take a step back and figure out what exactly I’m trying to say with my WIP and then figure out the best way to achieve it.  The world does not need my book but I need to write it. I write because I have to, why do you write?

6 thoughts on “#amwriting But Why?

  1. Hi Helen, excellent, thought-provoking post (and I’m jealous that you’re in a MLitt program – how fantastic for you!). After reading your post, I realized that the closer I’ve gotten to the real reason why I write, the more I’ve written and the more I’ve learned about writing. Right now (the “why” could change at any time!) I write because it’s the only activity I’ve engaged in where I’ve never felt the urge to justify it rationally, which is what I do for lots of other activities, like exercising, going to law school, etc. Writing has always seemed meaningful to me, even as a child, hard stop. That’s why I write.

  2. Angela Readman makes such a good point on Twitter, referring to this post, that she’d feel she’d be “locking part of herself away” if she didn’t write. She makes me think of the Holly Hunter character in Jane Campion’s film ‘The Piano’ whose husband cuts off one of her fingers so she cannot play the piano. I’d feel like her (except I’d be amputating my own finger as my husband is so supportive!). You’ve touched on something here, Helen. Thank you.

  3. This is a great post and very thought provoking – thanks. I write because it makes me feel whole. And the next question is, why? That’s not such an easy one to answer…

  4. It’s difficult to pinpoint reasons for writing isn’t it? I think for me it’s because I have characters in my head, they kind of gestate, and eventually they become so insistent I have to start writing about them, I want to know their story, and I want to see them more clearly. So I suppose you could say I write for myself and to satisfy my own curiosity, and I hope others (readers) will feel the same, eventually : )

  5. Hi Helen. I cam across something the other day that sums it up well for me. It’s by Tom Wolfe, in his introduction to ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’: ‘I will now reveal something that practically every writer has experienced – and none, as far as I know, has ever talked about. The young person who decides to become a writer because he has a subject or an issue in mind, because he has ‘something to say’, is a rare bird. Most make that decision because they realize they have a certain musical ability with words.’

  6. Another of your excellent posts Helen. I took up writing in a big way (albeit not as big as doing a Masters, well done you!) when I reached the age of 40 and realised I was still telling people ‘I’d like to write…’ and not doing anything about it. I had always wanted to write, and I think it was driving me a bit insane not doing it. Once I began I felt a sense of contentment and wholeness that I had never got from any other pursuit, paid or not. From a financial point of view I can’t sit around writing novels for ever unless I get somewhere, but I do know I won’t ever stop writing. It’s almost an addiction.

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