What’s your reason for writing?

Joan Didion tries to understand the pictures in her head.
Joan Didion tries to understand the pictures in her head.

I SIT DOWN EVERY MORNING while dark still hangs from the trees outside my window and write.

Even when I don’t want to do it, I do it.

Can’t help myself.

I write because somebody told me a secret, and I want to tell somebody else.

Don’t know who told me the secret.

Don’t know if they’re living or dead.

Don’t know where the voices came from.

But it’s a secret, and I can’t keep it.

I am obsessed with the thought of passing it on.

None of us write for the same reasons.

None of us, famous or unknown, have the same motivation.

But we write.

To stay alive, we do three things. We breathe, we eat, and we write.

As Lord Byron said, “If I don’t write to empty my head, I go mad.”

Perhaps he speaks for us all.

Maybe the only thing that keeps all writers from going insane is a single dangling participle.

Here is what the writers themselves say:

Neil Gaiman has pointed out, “The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on a page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising … and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”

Truman Capote put great emphasis on his style, his ability to write with precision and clarity and a strong descriptive voice. He said,To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

Ernest Hemingway, in his perfect spare Hemingway style, said, “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

When it came to writing, Mickey Spillane relied on the experiences he had endured. He said, “If you’re a singer you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he’s good, the older he gets, the better he writes.”

Anne Rice explained, “Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was fourteen. My daughter died at the age of six. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”

According to Judy Blume, “Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being.”

Don DeLillo calls writing a personal freedom. He believes, “It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture, but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

Says Joan Didion, “write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?”

Perhaps we can all relate to the words of Joan Didion.

Pictures dance in our heads.

Thoughts we don’t understand interrupt our sleep at night.

Write us down, they say.

I don’t know what the thoughts mean, I say.

Write them anyway, they say.

Why?

“You’ll find out what they mean, they say.

Voices keep talking to us.

Strange voices.

Faraway voices.

We see life as a child.

We see life as it never was.

We see life as it should be.

We see life as it can’t be.

We forget what out mamas told us: We talk to strangers.

And we go into the dark places of our mind to write the stories that won’t leave us alone.

Will we sell them?

Maybe.

Will writing make us rich?

We all get a good laugh at that notion.

But it’s as Junot Diaz said, “In my view, a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”

I wrote Night Side of Dark because I wanted to find out how it ended.

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