I have a hard time answering the question “why do you write.” This, I’ve been assured, is a disaster. Being able to articulate your WHY is a key element to “building your platform,” “branding yourself” or “finding a niche.” People who succeed in the WHY will sell books and those who don’t, won’t.
The WHY, being so important, must be answered before we set pen to paper or slop enchiladas over our keyboards in the middle of the night. However, being that I’m a half-ass backwards kind of person, I started writing long before I knew about the WHY. I just sat down and words came out.
However lately I’ve had a revelation.
Revelations are strange things, aren’t they? You see the face of Jesus in beer foam and suddenly boom/ bang you know your WHY. I wish I could say this revelation came to me while meditating on the top of the mountain or deep in the forest but it didn’t. It came to while sitting on my butt, eating peanuts and watching Philomena, which, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is a full box of Kleenex movie about an Irish girl forced to give up her baby by evil nuns. When she goes in search of him many years later those same nuns lie about not knowing his whereabouts and so she turns to a journalist for help. The journalist takes on the assignment not out of the goodness of his heart. He intends to turn her story into a “human interest story,” one which will tug at the hearts of readers and reestablish his drowning career. His WHY is money and fame.
Several times during their search Philomena balks at the idea of her story being publicized. Does she really want to expose things long unseen or forgotten? Painful things, the revelation of which may alienate family, friends or even God?
I’m sure once Philomena’s story did get published (and turned into a movie) it irked the Church to which she’d remained faithful, despite their treatment of her (where is Jesus – lost in the beer foam?). But it also brought to light an abomination and maybe even helped other poor Irish women to find their stolen sons.
So my WHY is a slippery little devil. Sometimes I write for fun and sometimes it’s a slide down the Iron Maiden. But if I write with the intent of not stepping on anyone’s toes (even my own), it doesn’t feel genuine.
Here are more articulate writers on the topic of why they write.
- “Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being.” Judy Blume
- “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” Ernest Hemingway
- “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.” Flaubert
- “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Joan Didion
- “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Lord Byron
- “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Gloria Steinem
- “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” Truman Capote
Of these esteemed writers I think Lord Byron’s WHY makes the most sense to me. How about you?