This is Why You Write
By Bob Johnson, Associate Professor, Bluegrass Writers Studio
This is why you write:
Because you need to. Because the voices in your head say to. No, because the demons in your head say to. Or maybe the voices in your head are chasing away the demons. The demons don’t actually want you to write. They want you to watch America’s Got Talent and play video games. In other words, they want you to see what other people have created, which is fine and all; you should appreciate the creative works of others. This is why you read, though. Nothing better informs the writing you’re going to do (as soon as the voices chase away the demons) than reading something good. Sometimes, when you’re reading something good, something that has won, say, the Pulitzer or the National Book Award or, at least, has slipped into the literary canon, you don’t like it. Maybe it’s Moby Dick or Heart of Darkness and the demons are saying this isn’t really all that great and wouldn’t it be neat to get on Facebook right now and put your status as reading a book everyone will think makes you look smart even though you can’t really be reading that book if you’re on Facebook and you’re sort of writing but, not really. If you’re honest, your current status on Facebook would be, “As I write this, I’m not writing right now.” This is kind of what happened when you read Beloved. You liked it, even if you allowed yourself to be distracted from it, even if you were kind of disappointed that it was a ghost story. The demons like ghost stories too (of course they do), but they’d rather you find one on Netflix. Really, this whole like and dislike stuff is your aesthetic speaking. And maybe you fail to see that. Maybe you put down the book, walk past the computer, and flip on Jeopardy. It makes you feel smart or, at least, feel like you’re getting smarter because now you’ve learned five European capitals that used to be part of the Roman Empire. You think maybe you could use this in a poem or as the setting for a story and, suddenly, you want to write. You glance at the computer, let your glance turn into a gaze. Desire. Want. You remember at some point in your past, before the demons and the voices, before the need, that you simply wanted to write. You weren’t thinking about deadlines and editors, publication or graduate school. There was drive without guilt. The voices were on your side and you used to grab the demons by their leathery wings and turn them into antagonists. That’ll teach them, you thought, making them part of the thing they were working against. Revenge. It isn’t necessarily the best reason to write, just like doing it for a girl or a guy or because you think it might make you famous, or at least somewhat admired, at your 30th high school reunion are not good reasons. But they aren’t bad reasons either. They got you writing, didn’t they? You like to talk about the voices and the demons and the deadlines because this makes sense to people who don’t actually write. But deep down you know, even if you are loathe to admit it to the cousin who totally gets you or your new best friend at the bar after you’ve finished that third pint, that you write simply because you want to. You like it even if you’re not as good at it, yet, as you want to be. Even if it doesn’t equate to certain success or guaranteed results. That’s part of the adventure and it’s okay, even exciting, because you’re doing this because you want to do it, and that is more than reason enough.
Published on February 27, 2014