Why I Write

So often I dwell on the unavoidable truth that writing is hard. Every day as I face the blank or unrevised page, I feel the dread that I won’t be able to fill or fix it, that somehow the difficult work is simply beyond me.

But in this terrific short interview from Oprah Magazine, Toni Morrison reminds me of something I somehow forget. In the face of inevitable struggle, writing is also magical. It has the power to transcend time and space and to bring to the fore the unquestionable gold that all of us are human.

Toni Morrison
That is certainly why I write historical fiction – to discover the humanity in times, places and people who are entirely different from those I know. I love to dig into that past to see life through a very different lens. I try to understand worlds where beliefs and values are utterly unfamiliar and yet, for those who live them, utterly true. Through this imagining, I find my compassion for humanity broadens and deepens. I can be less critical of others. I can smile at the foibles and quirks that might annoy me, and I can try to accept the many horrors that have always shook the world.

Writing allows us to step into one another’s shoes, to understand each other’s thoughts and lives in ways that, by ourselves, we might denigrate or condemn.

Writing gives us a window into the past and a way to imagine possible futures. Writing gives us the power to control things we cannot. It gives us a place to set down our greatest hopes and fears.

And though each of us struggles to give proper form to our invention, the effort to do so ties us to the magical self that can envision perfection.

Finally, for me at least, life without words would be hollow. When Morrison mentions her melancholy after finishing her first novel, The Bluest Eye, I can utterly understand. Without writing – without a project calling me, giving me purpose, without something to explore beyond the everyday world, without people – characters – talking to me in my head – I am only half a person, only half-present in this world. Strange as it may seem, that other dimension makes this one richer for me. It gives context and relevance to my life’s otherwise sometimes frustrating, formless meanderings.

Somehow the work of fiction gives my life shape. It transforms random experiences into plot and direction. If I occasionally interpret my own story as a novel, expecting an exciting climax and praying for a rare happy ending, is it the fault of my life’s work? Or do we all have a story to live – maybe one that one day will deserve to be written down?



  • Summer S.

    I wrote fiction for awhile in high school but things got too personal. I could no longer detach my life and myself from the plot and character. I spaced out on writing for awhile. Now I’m back, in a sense. But I’m still on the process of trying out some things to get a feel of the wind. c:

  • Lua

    What a fine answer to a very difficult question. I often ask myself ‘why I write’ and I am never satisfied with my answers… It feels like I can never find the meanings of the words I use adequate enough to express my passion. I really enjoyed reading your post.

  • Judith

    Hello Lua and Summer. Welcome to our “circle”. I love the idea of “getting a feel of the wind”!

    As for finding adequate words, the English language – all languages – can be frustratingly limited. That’s where complexity of thought, through the simple telling our tales, can express the depths of things we’re not quite sure even we understand.

    Good writing to you both. I’m going to add a category for new visitors.

  • Summer S.

    Hello Judith and Lua. Writers often find themselves here but not really. Somehow, their imagination lets them live in two planes of existence simultaneously, the real and the could be real. I think that was what scared me when I was younger.

    Now I’m back to writing again and there is no release like this. I feel liberated. I am filled with passion once more.

  • Christi Craig

    Thanks for your post.

    I love this sentence, as it rings true in memoir as in fiction:
    “Writing gives us a window into the past and a way to imagine possible futures. Writing gives us the power to control things we cannot. It gives us a place to set down our greatest hopes and fears.”

    I can appreciate this as well: “[Writing] transforms random experiences into plot and direction. ”

    So often, I think of an experience that was either puzzling, frustrating, or maybe just fun, and I think, if anything, that would make a good story!

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