I once came across the acceptance speech by the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk for the 2006 Nobel Prize. Towards the end of this beautiful speech, Pamuk answers the question “why do I write?” He then goes on to list over and over the many reasons why he writes. The list is long and varied, but includes things like: “I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink” and “I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone” and “I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.”
I’m not sure that anyone has actually asked me why I write. I get a lot of what do you write? Or what is your book about? At which point I slur something about a boy born to be a villain who ends up choosing to be a hero over the loud pounding of my heart as I slowly back out of the room, hoping people will forget we even had the conversation. I’m never prepared to face my writer self in a room full of real-life people. She feels like a person who only exists in my mind, like one of the characters I make up. There’s always a strange moment of embarrassment for me to admit that yes, I spend a lot of time making up people and worlds and then attempt to bend all of it to my will. It sounds a little dangerous when brought out into the daylight of reality where the non-writers live.
But why do I do it? I think it’s because of my mother who has confessed to making up stories about total strangers that she sees on vacation. Sometimes I do too. Entirely plausible ones. It’s in my blood. I can’t not make up stories. When I sit down to write, I’m forced to use those powers of creativity to make something harmless to myself. Otherwise, I turn those stories against myself in ways that feed my anxiety and weigh me down. I turn into an entangled lump who sits, rocking in corners alone muttering strands of indecipherable phrases. Or I wander around having conversations with imaginary people in my head. It’s okay as long as I know they’re not real, right?
The physical act of writing fictitious stories unburdens me. I become a happier person with a purpose. I’ve got so many ideas, scenarios and dialogues running through my head at various times, the healthiest thing I can do for myself (and the people I live with) is to put those words down on paper or pixels. It comes down to keeping my brain actively engaged in a good cause.
I also believe if there is something I have to do, I might as well find a way to enjoy it and I might as well do my best while I’m at it. So I read to write better. I write to write better. Writing is learning. The slowest and deepest learning. Every time I open the blank page, no words will come out the same way as they did before and I learn something new about myself and the process of writing that I didn’t know before.
But mostly, I write because I choose to write. So many days I could be doing other things, I choose to sit down and write. It’s a decision everyday, every minute. The reward is the orderly unwinding of my brain and finding what comes out. I imagine that why a person writes is very similar to why a person climbs a mountain. It feels pretty good to stand on top of that mountain, but only because of how hard the journey up the mountain was. It’s about pushing yourself to see what you can do. Some people climb a mountain to cross it off their bucket list. For others the climb was the first hurdle to the next one. Can I do it better? Can I do it faster? And what light and darkness will I find inside of myself?
I choose to write, because when I stand on top of the mountain top, I’m already looking to the next one. I’m already asking myself if I can do it better and what will I find inside myself that I didn’t know was there.