Vicki sent me a link last week to Why We Write, a blog with posts on that theme, mostly written by striking TV writers. It's terribly interesting and I highly recommend it, both for writers and the people who attempt to understand them.
The essay I most closely relate to is this one by Damon Lindelof, Co-Creator and Executive Producer of "Lost". (Although Number 20 would have to be a close second, starting as it does with the sentence "I write because I sucked at gym.") In it, he tells a story and then tells you about how he made all of it up with the slightest provocation, mostly because he can't not make stuff up. He puts it this way:
I write because my imagination compels me to do so.
I write because if I didn't, I'd be branded a pathological liar.
YES. Thank you, Damon Lindelof, for explaining me to me.
I have tried before to explain it to people as a compulsion. I can't not write. Even when I'm not putting words on paper (or more likely, in a computer) I am always making stuff up. I mentally write new scenes for characters from books, movies, and TV. I invent stories for the people I see around me. I can still picture this woman I saw crying in the Metro once in DC. I had framed a novel around her by the time I got home. I can't help myself.
When I am not making stuff up, I tend to be narrating my own life in my head. Maybe this is normal (is it?) but I think what sets me apart from your average person here is the amount of effort I put into editing this narration to get the wording just right. Basically, I am constantly working at writing the stories that I could tell people about my day if they weren't so utterly forgettable, even to me, no matter how impeccably-worded. No wonder I can't remember where I parked or what the third thing was that I needed from Target. My brain is busy.
Not that all of this mental writing gets me to far in terms of actual written output. I promise you, I have forgotten far better stuff than I have ever posted here. Including all of the good parts of this post, which I composed while lying in bed last night. Sometimes though, the words will not be denied. I have gotten up out of bed to write, written things on napkins and Post-Its and even in desperate times, the back of my left hand. I have lived with the same phrase knocking around in my head interminably until I managed to write something using it, just to make it go away.
I don't write because it's fun. Sometimes it can be, but on the whole, not so much. In fact, if you read Why We Write, you'll see a lot of writers going with the old "I hate writing, but love having written" thing. It's true. Already I am frustrated with this post and having chosen to go this route rather than take this topic in any of the infinite number of other possible directions. And I definitely don't write because I imagine that the world needs my words.
No, I guess you could say that I write because I have no choice about it. It's a part of who I am. I can't not be a writer any more than I can not be shy or not have brown eyes. I don't remember a time in my life when I wasn't writing something.
I love words like I love chocolate. I love arranging them and creating from them and I swear, there is a small high that comes from finding just the right word to say exactly what you mean or evoke just the right image.
I love stories. Reading them, hearing them, watching them. And when you write stories, well that is the only chance you get in life to make everything turn out exactly the way you want.
Add all of that together with the opportunity it affords me to receive affirmation without anyone actually looking at me and the fact that I type so quickly that heck, I might as well put it to use, and there you have it: why I write.
But mostly it's that pathological liar thing. At least as far as you know.