Why I Write – Part 1: A Thought Experiment

The past week I’ve given myself permission to not do any writing and just read instead. It felt deliciously evil. So much so that I’ve read three and a half books in the past 6 days. Oh glory, glory, hally hoo-hah. Such a delicious change.

So as I was lying in bed last night, indulging in the latest VP instructor’s story, I briefly entertained a thought:

What if you just gave up writing? There’d finally be enough hours in the day for everything you want to do. I mean, can you imagine getting home from work and not having to sacrifice cooking or yoga or reading in favor of writing? You could exist in an indefinite hedonistic state!

I put the book down and stared up at the ceiling for a bit after that thought came and went.

I’ve always had something I was aching for, ever since I hit puberty, so at first this thought was distressing. Asking me to give up pursuit of an impossible goal is like asking me to give up breathing. I feel empty and adrift without constantly working towards something and the constant dull pain from the resulting (self-inflicted) ego bruises is as familiar as my own heartbeat.

But the prospect of having no obligations is intoxicating – nothing to worry about, nothing to plan for, nothing to lament when things go wrong or when your failure grows so large you become warped from the gravity of it. But this feels so wrong – so unhuman.

Everyone has a “thing,” be it striving for the perfect house, or family, or fantasy football team or five minute mile or golf swing. We have a compulsion to seek novel things, then seek to get better at it (I mean, look at the points you can get on Xbox games for achieving certain things in certain games). We have a vision of what we could be, and what we are and that gap between is what causes us to get up at 5:30 in the morning and pull on our running shoes or bring our camera with us everywhere or learn a new coding language.

Who wants to spend their life and at the end of it say: “I’m certainly proud of the amount of TV I watched.”

So the prospect of giving up writing became less hollow at that thought. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer (though to be fair, it is the first thing I wanted to be). I wanted to be a lot of other things and threw myself in with as much vigor as I’m using now (go back and talk to my fifteen-year-old self who had no other eyes than for music). I’m sure I would find something else if I gave it up, so at this thought the distress abated.

And it left me with the question: Why write at all? Why do this one thing that brings you so much grief and frustration; that feels so impossibly out of reach most days?

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6 Responses to Why I Write – Part 1: A Thought Experiment

  1. Katherine B says:

    I don’t agree that everyone has a “thing” they want, a personal MacGuffin that drives them to achieve. Some people don’t want beyond what they have, some people want but prevent themselves from reaching for it, and some people want but not enough to try. Not wanting doesn’t make a person unhuman, unless all Buddhists are aliens? 🙂 I think how much a person wants, and their type of wanting, is more a personality trait than inherent to our species.

    For me, I write for the fun of reading. It’s only recently I’ve gotten serious about making my writing into something someone else might enjoy reading. I never wanted to be a writer because writing for others was too much work… yet here I am, a fellow VP student wanting it enough to throw money at the possibility of getting better. Why indeed!

    • Kelly says:

      Even Buddhists want something they have to work towards, though. I think the other end of the spectrum would be something like nihilists who believe that there’s nothing to believe in (but even culturing a belief in nothing takes practice!), or those kind of people that give up, but we all want to change something for the better – whether it’s pursued or not is a question of personality and circumstance. I think absolutely someone who wants nothing and desires change in nothing is someone dead inside. Want is a fundamental aspect of humanity (even if it’s for a piece of cake or to change jobs or stop drinking). Though this is all very philosophical in that you can find examples small enough to prevent “wanting” from being a universal truth 🙂

      I’m working on the part 2 today! It’s certainly complicated and I’ve been waiting for the mindspace to do so 🙂

      So excited about VP! For so long, all my writing and submitting has felt like a fruitless exercise. VP feels more like stepping up to the starting line, y’know, to actually participate in a community I’ve always wanted to be a part of. Almost like I’ve been dragged out of the vacuum I’ve been in the last five years.

  2. Katherine B says:

    A Buddhist would say there is a difference between wanting and a desire to improve, though. Wanting brings unhappiness until the want has been achieved, whereas the Buddhist teachings, as I understand them, encourage awareness and acceptance of what is now, as well as the drive to improve going forward. Desire for improvement- yes, I’d agree that that’s a nearly-universal human trait. Wanting something to the degree of unhappiness without it- common, but not universal.

    I went through my why-am-I-doing-this questioning when I decided to apply for VP this year. Used to be, the number of people who had read my writing could be counted on one hand. With a few fingers missing. Now… I have no idea how many people read my application. Kind of creepy, really, but if I really DO want to be a writer, then I’d better get over it!

    • Kelly says:

      True – good demarcation between want and a desire to change. I suppose the difference lies in what you expect to get out of that change – some outcomes are better than others. Want does imply there is unhappiness without, whereas desiring to change implies there’s a happiness yet-to-be-attained (but not necessarily unhappiness at the moment). And I think the distinction has a lot to do with ego (if you chase it down the rabbit hole far enough). And I completely agree that there is an abundance of the former and not even my own motivations for making art is untainted by want.

      And congrats! Having other people read my stuff was a terrifying step to take, primarily because I was worried that where I thought I was at the time was different from where I actually was. And I was right 🙂 But the shakiness wore off after a while (not to mention getting over the similar shakiness that still comes whenever I get a rejection). Now I want MOAR BETTER COMMENTS (I’ve become a critique junkie). It was the only way I was able to start shaking off bad habits and making the stuff I was writing get closer to the awesome thing I had in my head 🙂

      • Katherine B says:

        Thanks. Sending in the submission wasn’t as terrifying as being accepted and realizing that now I’d actually have to SEE the people, and they’d see ME. Um, yeah, wasn’t that the point of applying? Except I hadn’t expected to be accepted…

        If you’re ever jonesing for feedback, feel free to send something my way. I’ve got to brush up on my critique skills before VP- while I’ve been doing a lot of software code reviews lately, it’s not the same thing!

      • Kelly says:

        Sure thing! I’ve got one coming up I wouldn’t mind an extra set of eyes on. My flesh-and-bone crit group is having at it on Sunday and I’m gonna do a rewrite based on the comments after that, so I’d appreciate a crit before I send it out 🙂

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