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Why Do We Write?
By Mark London
September, 2007, 07:24

In an industry filled with rejection writers seek the golden opportunity to be heard.
ost of the authors interviewed by this writer, from Philip Carlo to Jonathan Kellerman, Celeste Bradley to Sue-Ellen Welfonder all have stories of their childhood desire to write. But the questions still remains, why do we write?
Reading hundreds of author biographies, interviews, watching writers featured on television, looking for some commonality among such a wonderfully diverse set of individuals, it is very difficult to find a singular reason. Almost every one of them described it simply as, "the passion." The passion to write, write from the heart, write from the soul, write what you know, write passionately.
It's more than that though, much, much more.
Speaking to a psychiatrist on the subject brings forth the age-old explanations of why anyone would want to put him or herself through such a demanding lifetime experience. The industry provides high levels of rejection, inconsistent revenue flow, a constant struggle to find just the right word, deadlines, being told to re-write, and re-write again, and again, by an editor until you discover just the correct combination of words.

Still, writers willingly return for more of this abuse and place themselves into a high-risk career category. Why? The Doc comes up with a number of reasons, most of which are not from the positive realm of our existence, but from the negative:

  • A desire to be heard, recognized, and lauded because we feel we never were.
  • An almost masochistic tendency to accept being rejected.
  • Inherent gambling issues.
  • Adrenaline junkie looking for the next big rush from publication.
  • A disregard for future financial security.
  • Emotional instability and personal insecurity.
  • An inability to grow up or a strong desire to remain a child.
  • Chronic embellishment or the desire to entertain.
  • Difficulty coping with the reality of stressful situations (avoidance/denial).
  • Depression, clinical, chronic or otherwise.

This in no way presents all of the details of a writer's make-up. The list goes on, but often the theme is the same.
An overwhelming desire to be heard because somewhere along the way, probably originating in childhood, we felt (and perhaps still feel) that no one is listening to what we're saying. This in turn creates obsessive behaviour in a vast proportion of writers. It also accounts for much of the above attitude and actions among writers. So part of the writer's psyche sequesters itself and manifests through an alternative, obsessive outlet: writing.
Whether the communication is presented in works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or any other genre, the commonality appears to be that somewhere within each and every writer is an alternate personality screaming to be let loose with a lust to be heard. How many times have we been told that part of the story is part of the writer?
For every writer who is heard, recognized and lauded for their achievements - Hemingway, Wells, Twain, King, Cusler, Rowlings, Burton, Cook, Hyde, and thousands others - there are hundreds of thousands never heard and millions who want to be heard.
How many times has someone said to you, "I want to write ___________."
Fill in the blank, it could be a book, poetry, screenplay, articles, short stories, etc. That same sentence appears over 1.4 million times using Google's exact search. And remember, not everyone on the face of the planet is hooked up to the Internet. The real number of people who want to write would be a mind-boggling number.
Those who are heard are often not fulfilled though. Their desire continues, searching for the ultimate satisfaction without end, and creating volumes of works that amaze the masses. Other successful writers, even with the channels set to full volume, continue on with their discontent. Sometimes to the point where it becomes unbearable for them to cope. That's when we read about the downfall of writers like Papa Hemingway blowing his head off with a shotgun, Hunter Thompson taking himself out with a .45-calibre handgun, and Iris Chang - another a self-inflicted gunshot. This suicide list is lengthy and can be read at I found it both unnerving to read and at the same time a certain amount of comfort came to me knowing I'm not the only tortured soul.
Yet, again we come round to the question, Why do we write?
For me, there are a number of reasons, some of which fall into the above psychiatric categories and others that don't: 

  • Personal pleasure
  • Self-imposed challenge
  • Lack of boredom
  • The "What comes next?" anticipation
  • Freedom from the 9-5 routine
  • Self-satisfaction
  • Earning an income

And a few other positives not yet explored.
We write because of a combination of all or some of the above, plus that which is not listed, and each of us have our own personal associations with this formula. We're all closely related through a score of the conditions, however we carry individual realities that shape us quite differently. We may all write the story of boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-meets-new-girl, but I guarantee you that we will all tell that story differently.

Why do we write? We write because we are unique human beings with an inner force that compels us to write.

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Mark London is a Toronto based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email:

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