Why do I write?

CI Foundation Units 2011: "I am creative because" / "I am not creative because"

CI Foundation Units 2011: “I am creative because” / “I am not creative because”

“Why do I create?”

I was always certain I would grow up to be a writer.   My first words were “book”, “sit” and “read”.   There’s something about curling up with a good story and getting totally immersed in another world.

When I was four I discovered that it was possible to write one’s own stories!   (Imagine!)

This became a part of my identity – what do I like to do?   “I write stories.”

I’m not the only one creating things into the void as part of a search for meaning.   Some say the very meaning of life is “to create a connection between our inner depths and the outer world” (Kant, 1982, quoted in Ventegodt et al, 2003, 4).


Everyone has their reasons...

“Why are you creative?” from KKB101 lecture, 2011, QUT

For me, everything in my life – my faith, my relationships, and my studies – all depends on asking the world, “Why?”   But for me, the questioning must be processed into a story in order to make sense of it.   Without a story arc to guide it, my questions just spiral into the void, where things don’t happen for a reason, and there is no meaning to life.

For some of us, creating is an intrinsic drive, a compulsion.   When asked “Why do you create?” Gunter Grass answered, “Because I have to.” (Vaske, 2002)   I agree with this, but as a writer, I can also see that if you make it big, there are extrinsic rewards to creating.   Fame.   Money.   And a deep hope that I can challenge readers’ worldviews, leading them to their own process of questioning.   Creativity, after all, is primarily subversive.

'Ender's Game' original book cover for EG-US Image source: Ansible Wikia

‘Ender’s Game’ original book cover for EG-US
Image source: Ansible Wikia

But it wasn’t until I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (I read it when I was about twelve, waaaay before it became a movie and was suddenly “cool”!) that I found a story that begged to be contemplated, not just read.   The story revolves around children who are conscripted into a war games training centre on a space station.   It is a story of primal emotions in a highly controlled environment – courage triumphing over fear; loyalty and betrayal; the underdog against the institution.   The main character survives because of his keen imagination, rejecting traditional battle strategies in favour of improvisation and teamwork.

The words of the story are minimalistic.   However, it was the unspoken questions posed by the book that really fascinated me.   Below the plot and the manoeuvrings of the characters lies a bigger picture of analytical philosophy and psychology.   Do humans have the right to wipe out another species that threatens our existence?   Should adults withhold information from children for their own protection?   How much pressure can the human mind withstand before it begins to crack?   How young are we when the urge to win becomes such a strong driving force?

After reading “Ender’s Game” I entered the mild but melodramatic depression of the disappointed writer.   How could I aspire to write a story that captured such grand ideas?   I had no desire to emulate “Ender’s Game”, writing a story in the same vein or using the same style or techniques.   That would only have created an abomination, a Frankenstein imitating real life, not anything new (Rhodes, 1961).

And yet it had given me hope – that someone with a particularly analytical brain (my other degree is in law) could draw, from their questioning of their world, a story that gripped the reader by the heart and the head.   I write about racism, about culture, about the familiar tensions between the people we love.   Why do I write?   To search, to question, to reform my concept of the world.   Thankfully, I have found that the search is worth it, because the search is an act of creating.

Sometimes I try to avoid writing, because asking questions of my world makes me feel uneasy with reality.   Still, I will always have questions, and I must keep writing in order to process them. “Because I have to.”

To wrap things up, here’s a quote from an essay I love by George Orwell about why he writes. He begins just as I did:

“From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.”

George Orwell quote on "Why I write" Image source: Wonder Pens

George Orwell quote on “Why I write”
Image source: Wonder Pens


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2012. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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