Sunday, May 6, 2012

The "Need" to Write

"You become a writer because you need to become a writer - nothing else." --Grace Paley

"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand."-George Orwell

"I write for the same reason I breathe -- because if I didn't, I would die." --Isaac Asimov

"This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write?  Dig down into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, I must, then build your life according to this necessity."- Rainer Maria Rilke

I come across this particular kind of idea about being a writer every once in a while. That it's a need, a compulsion. That if you aren't wanting with every fiber of all of your cells to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you somehow aren't a "real" writer. You don't deserve to be a "real" writer.

I don't think I've ever felt, or will ever feel, this way. I like writing, obviously. It's sometimes hard and sometimes fun and sometimes all kinds of bullshit. But I don't do it because I feel some encompassing need deep down in my soul, some thrumming of words in my blood. I do it because writing is a weird, constantly changing challenge: making words fit together in the way I want them to, making my writing engage with the ideas, themes and feelings I find interesting and relevant. It's a way to be in the world and a way to understand the world.

I feel like I see this WRITE OR DIE sentiment more commonly directed towards writing students and younger writers. It's supposed to be inspirational, I guess. Aubrey Hirsch wrote about this phenomenon on her blog, using an example of the famous Charles Bukowski poem "so you want to be a writer?" I can't stand Bukowski anyway, but her refutation of his rhetoric is pretty spot on. A lot of writing is work; the simple fact of fucking sitting down and doing it, whether you've got some kind of divine inspiration or not. That willingness to read more and write more and learn more and always be open to more and for more, that's a big chunk of "it," the writing life. But I'm not sure I see the writing life as a slog through some long tortuous journey of constant effort and work, either.

What about you? Are you compelled by the singing tides of your blood to write? Could you stop writing if you had to, or if you wanted to? Does it matter?