As authors, we are often asked, “When did you first start writing?”
Or “Why do you write?”
The typical answer that most authors give, myself included, is some sort of anecdote about a deep-rooted love of writing or a long-held passion for storytelling that we have possessed since a very young age, and while this is in fact true, it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of the matter.
We do enjoy telling stories, of course. Taking a passionate life event or a spectacular action sequence and committing it to the page in an effective and compelling manner is the great challenge of the writer. The goal is to communicate to the reader. Trying to accomplish this in a way that is captivating is what all writers seek. But the question still remains—Why do we write?
The fact that we as writers enjoy storytelling doesn’t necessarily shed light on why we write at all in the first place. In my estimation, there seems to be something much more fundamental to the human experience that compels us to write.
Good writing is proven through the ability to write well, rather than the ability to come up with great ideas. A fine writer can compose a good story because she has good ideas that are the foundation of the story, but great writers are able to take the most mundane subjects and write marvelously about them. The distinguished writer G.K. Chesterton, for example, has written essays on topics as banal as boredom and resting, and they are extremely thought-provoking and entertaining essays. Good writing doesn’t need a good story.
On the other hand, poor writing can destroy a great idea.
The key for great writers is that they can capture a reader’s attention with even the simplest of subjects just because their writing is extraordinary. When first starting out, too many writers have an interesting idea or a persuasive plot line, and they simply begin to write. They fail to realize that a persuasive plot line does not a good writer make. As writers, we need to learn to write well first and worry about the interesting ideas later.
The goal of the writer is to communicate to the reader, whether through a story, a novel, an essay, a poem, or any other form of the written word. As writers, we’re trying to communicate, and great writers have perfected this mode of communication.
The human species is a communicative being and, as such, we are all searching for people with whom to communicate and for people to understand us. Whether it is with our family and friends, our coworkers and neighbors, or just the barista at the local coffee shop, we long to communicate even just a little part of ourselves. As communicative beings, we yearn to be seen and because of this, we strive to see others as well. Call it an extension of the Golden Rule—we try to understand those around us that we love because we want to be understood ourselves.
At the root of things, this is why we write. We may have a deep-rooted love for story telling, but ultimately we want to see and be seen; we want to understand and be understood. We write to preserve a memory, to sustain a thought. Without it, we fear we will become forgotten.