September 4, 2013

33 Authors On Why They Write

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1. George Orwell

Four great motives for writing:

  1. To be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups in childhood, etc.
  2. To take pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.
  3. The desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

2. Joan Didion

David Shankbone
David Shankbone

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means…In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even hostile act. (via)

3. Michael Koh

I write to remember myself. (via)

4. Terry Tempest Williams

Leap
Leap

I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. (via)

5. Meg Wolitzer

Larry D. Moore
Larry D. Moore

You have deep control, and where else can you find that?…You can’t control other people, or your relationships, or your children, but in writing you can have sustained periods where you’re absolutely in charge. (via)

6. Walter Mosley

Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock.com
Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock.com

I can’t think of a reason not to write. I guess one reason would be that nobody was buying my books. Come to think of it, that wouldn’t stop me. I’d be writing anyway. (via)

7. Isabel Allende

MDCarchives
MDCarchives

I just need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later. Why a particular story? I don’t know when I begin. That I learn much later…

In all my books there are strong women who have to overcome incredible obstacles to have their own destiny. I’m not trying to create models for other women to imitate. I just want my women readers to find the strength. And I want my men readers to understand what it is to be a woman—to find the sympathy. (via)

8. David Baldacci

Absolute Power
Absolute Power

If writing were illegal I’d be in prison. I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion.
When the sentences and the story are flowing, writing is better than any drug. It doesn’t just make you feel good about yourself. It makes you feel good about everything…

When I was a kid I read a lot. I imagined worlds all the time—little worlds I’d lose myself in. I told my stories to anyone who would listen, and a lot of people who wouldn’t. finally my mom gave me a blank-page notebook. She was trying to shut me up, hoping for a little peace and quiet, and she told me to start writing my stories down. I got hooked.

When you have a bit of imagination and the desire to use words to tell stories, writing takes on a life of its own. When I’m out and about, I cant help but throw the people I see into whatever I’m writing. (via)

9. Jennifer Egan

The Invisible Circus
The Invisible Circus

If I’m not writing I feel an awareness that something’s missing. If I go a long time, it becomes worse. I become depressed. There’s something vital that’s not happening. A certain slow damage starts to occur. I can coast along awhile without it, but then my limbs go numb. Something bad is happening to me, and I know it. The longer I wait, the harder it is to start again.

When I’m writing, especially if it’s going well, I’m living in two different dimensions: this life I’m living now, which I enjoy very much, and this completely other world I’m inhabiting that no one else knows about. I don’t think my husband can tell. It’s a double life I get to live without destroying my marriage. And it’s heaven.

Especially when I’m writing a first draft, I feel as if I’ve been transported out of myself. That’s always a state I’m trying to achieve, even as a journalist—although when I’m working on nonfiction I’m almost never actually writing. I do months of research and then write the piece in a few days.

When I’m writing fiction I forget who I am and what I come from. I slip into utter absorption mode. I love the sense that I’ve become so engaged with the other side, I’ve slightly lost my bearings here. If I’m going from the writing mindset to picking my kids up from school, I often feel a very short but acute kind of depression, as if I have the bends. Once I’m with them it totally disappears, and I feel happy again. Sometimes I forget I have children, which is very strange. I feel guilty about it, as if my inattention will cause something to happen to them , even when I’m not responsible for them—that god will punish me. (via)

10. James Frey

A Million Little Pieces
A Million Little Pieces

I’m really not qualified to do anything else. At this point it’s so much a part of my life that I can’t not do it. If I don’t work I go crazy. And frankly, I have a family, and I need the money.

When I was a little boy I loved to get lost in books. I never thought about becoming a writer until I was twenty-one and I read Tropic of Cancer. Very few things in my life have spoken to me the way that book did. I had never encountered something that spoke ot me so purely and so directly and so profoundly. Half of it was rage and half of it was joy, and it was exactly how I felt about the world…I was like, That’s what I’m going to do. And six months later I moved to Paris because Tropic of Cancer was about Henry Miller living there. Moving to Paris was about searching and looking and living and trying to become a writer and trying to figure out what that meant, if it was even possible. To live boldly, recklessly, stupidly, and beautifully…

The thing I love most about the act of writing is that I disappear. I get lost in trying to make every word the right word, in trying to tell the story. (via)

11. Sue Grafton

V is for Vengeance
V is for Vengeance

I write because in 1962 I put in my application for a job working in the children’s department at Sears, and they never called me back.

Seriously: I write because it’s all I know how to do. Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing, whether the work is going well or I’m stuck in the hell of writer’s block, which I’m happy to report only occurs about once a day…Another joy of keeping journals is that on days when I’m feeling especially frustrated and despairing, I can read through the journals from an earlier book and realize that I felt just as baffled and frightened when I was writing those…

I was raised in a household where reading and the love of good literature was an essential part of our daily lives. My father, C.W. Grafton, was a municipal bond attorney. He wrote mysteries in his spare time, if lawyers can be said to have spare time…

Mystery writers are the neurosurgeons of literature. Or maybe magicians. We work by sleight of hand. (via)

12. Sara Gruen

Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com
Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

The only thing that makes me crazier than writing is not writing. I knew I wanted to be a writer as soon as I knew how to read, and I began by making little illustrated books…I was twelve when I wrote my first “novel.” It was about a girl who wakes up and a horse has jumped into her backyard…

Besides having a great library, one of the best things my parents did for my career was to make me take typing in high school. I can type as fast as I can think, which is crucial when the story’s flowing. I’ve been clocked at an honest 120 words a minute. Not coincidentally, nobody, including me, can read my handwriting…

There’s a moment in every book when the story and characters are finally there; they come to life, they’re in control. They do things they’re not supposed to do and become people they weren’t mean to be. When I reach that place, it’s magic. It’s a kind of rapture. (via)

13. Kathryn Harrison

The Mother Knot
The Mother Knot

I write because it’s the only thing I know that offers the hope of proving myself worthy of love. It has everything to do with my relationship with my mother. I spent my childhood in an attempt to remake myself into a girl she would love, and I’ve translated that into the process of writing—not intentionally, but just as I was always looking beyond my present incarnation toward the one that would woo my mother’s attention, I’m always looking toward the book that hasn’t come out yet: the one that will reveal me as worthy of love…

When it’s great, writing can be ecstatic. Even when it’s just hard, it’s always involving. The moments that are sublime—I get just enough of them that I don’t lose hope of being given another—are only so because for that moment, when even as little as a sentence seems exactly right, before the feeling fades, it offers what I think it must feel like to be worthy of love. I want praise, of course; it’s a cousin of love…

I write, also, because it’s the apparatus I have for explaining the world around me, seemingly the only method that works…

One thing I love about writing is that in that moment, I am most completely myself, and yet totally relieved of my self…

When you write, endless possibility exists before you. (via)

14. Gish Jen

The Love Wife
The Love Wife

Writing is part and parcel of how I am in the world. Eating, sleeping, writing: they all go together. I don’t think about why I’m writing any more than I think about why I’m breathing. (via)

15. Daniel Coffeen

Facebook.com

Writing is an encounter — between human flesh, words, grammar, ideas, affects, feelings. There is obviously no right way to write. And yet we know, as both readers and writers, that there are certain ways that work, ways that turn the world on, that take everyone and everything involved on a journey elsewhere — a way that makes writing less a matter of expression and understanding than a matter of discovery and creation.

16. Sebastian Junger

Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com
Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

When I’m writing, I’m in an altered state of mind.
I’m at my desk. I usually have some music playing, and a cup of coffee. Back when I smoked I had an ashtray and a cigarette; when I was trying to keep from smoking I always had some Nicorette gum in my mouth…

When I write a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter that’s good, I know it, and I know people are going to read it. That knowledge—Oh my God, I’m doing it, I’m doing this thing again that works—it’s just exhilarating. Lots of times I fail at it, and I know it’s not good, and it gets deleted.

But when it’s good…it’s like going on a date that’s going well. There’s an electricity to the process that’s exciting and incomparable to anything else…
When I went to Sarajevo in ‘93 and I was with these other freelance writers, and we were reporting on this incredible story, I went from being a waiter to being a war reporter in the course of three weeks. Seeing your name in print for the first time—nothing can compare to that…

There are moments in the field, or at your desk, when you can’t believe what’s flowing through you and coming out on the page. It’s the hand of God, or whatever you want to call it: you’re writing way beyond yourself. (via)

17. Mary Karr

Kyle Hansen
Kyle Hansen

I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money…

All of that said, writing feels like a privilege. Even though it’s very uncomfortable, I constantly feel very lucky. For most writers there’s a span of twenty years or so when you can’t write because you’re doing eighty-seven other things…

If I couldn’t write I’d be very sad. I think I’d do something that had to do with the body. I’d be a yoga teacher or a gym coach or a massage therapist. Of course, none of that would address my need to write. That’s why I’m still writing. (via)

18. Michael Lewis

Moneyball
Moneyball

When I was at Princeton, I had this very passionate intellectual experience with my senior thesis. I loved writing it…Before I wrote my first book in 1989, the sum total of my earnings as a writer, over four years of freelancing, was about three thousand bucks. So it did appear to be financial suicide when I quit my job at Salomon Brothers—where I’d been working for a couple of years, and where I’d just gotten a bonus of $225,000, which they promise they’d double the following year—to take a $40,000 book advance for a book that took a year and a half to write.

My father thought that I was crazy I was twenty-seven years old, and they were throwing all this money at me, and it was going to be an easy career. He said, “Do it another ten years, then you can be a writer.” But I looked around at the people on Wall Street who were ten years older than me, and I didn’t see anyone who could have left. You get trapped by the money. Something dies inside. It’s very hardtop preserve the quality in a kid that makes him jump out of a high-paying job to go write a book. It gets squeezed out of you.

I took a dumb risk, and I never paid a price for that. Instantly I had a book that sold millions of copies. Since then it hasn’t been a very difficult living at all, but that was fluky.

There’s no simple explanation for why I write. It changes over time. There’s no hole inside me to fill or anything like that, but once I started doing it, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else for a living. I noticed very quickly that writing was the only way for me to lose track of the time. That’s not as true anymore as it was when I started, but it still happens, and it’s incredible when it does. (via)

19. Anne Patchett

State of Wonder
State of Wonder

I write because I swear to God I don’t know how to do anything else.
From the time I was a little child, I knew that writing was going to be my life. I never wavered from it. Making that decision very young made my life streamlined. I put all my eggs in one basket, which has resulted in a great number of eggs.

I don’t like to look back. That’s a big part of my psychology. It’s not because of lurking trauma. I don’t particularly look forward, either. I’m all about the now. But writing gives my life a narrative structure: “Oh God, this happened and then I did that…I shouldn’t have done that, but then I did this.”

You know the old cliché, “I hate to write but I love to have written”? that pretty much sums it up. How I feel about writing depends entirely on what I’m working on. At the moment I’m writing an essay on marriage. It’s excruciating. I feel like I’m sitting on the asphalt on a pitch-black interstate, typing madly, while the eighteen-wheelers are bearing down on me. Every minute, I’m about to be squashed…

I love to write. I think of it as a privilege and a pleasure. But if something happened and I never wrote again, I’d be fine. It would be a less interesting life—less dimensional—but it wouldn’t be an unhappy life. I was given the gift of very good brain chemistry. I’ve had hard times in my life, but I’ve never had depression. (via)

20. William Faulkner

Solodov Alexey / Shutterstock.com
Solodov Alexey / Shutterstock.com

Really, the writer doesn’t want success… He knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall — Kilroy was here — that somebody a hundred or a thousand years later will see. (via)

21. Alex Magnin

Writing doesn’t make the world how I want it to be. It makes me how I want to be for the world. It forces me to figure things out, as best I can, and to declare publicly who I am. That, so far, is the best way I’ve found to being who I want to be. It’s what life’s about. And that is why everyone should write. (via)

22. Don DeLillo

White Noise
White Noise

It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture, but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals (via)…I write to find out how much I know…The act of writing for me is a concentrated form of thought. If I don’t enter that particular level of concentration, the chances are that certain ideas never reach any level of fruition. (via)

23. Neil Gaiman

Entertainment Press / Shutterstock.com
Entertainment Press / Shutterstock.com

The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange. (via)

24. Christine Stockton

 

It’s a conversation with yourself, mostly, like a way to get outside of yourself so that you can have dialogue about all the things going on inside your brain. (via)

25. Stephen King

Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. (via)

26. Truman Capote

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make. (via)

27. Richard Wright

Neftali / Shutterstock.com
Neftali / Shutterstock.com

The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts. Reluctantly, he comes to the conclusion that to account for his book is to account for his life. (via)

28. Lance Pauker

I was raised in an environment that gave me an inflated sense of worth, leading me to believe that my opinions and takes on the world were super important, and that I would achieve notoriety simply for being myself. But mostly, fuck getting a job where I have to know what an upper lipper average is. (via)

29. Rebecca Lindenberg

Love, An Index

I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it. (via)

30. W.H. Auden

Van Vechten Collection
Van Vechten Collection

I think what Dr. Johnson said about writing is true of all the arts: “The aim of writing is to enable readers a little better to enjoy life or a little better to endure it.” The other thing that the arts can do is that they are the chief method of communicating with the dead. After all, Homer is dead, his society completely gone, and yet one can appreciate it. Without communication with the dead, a fully human life is not possible. (via)

31. Jorge Luis Borges

Neftali / Shutterstock.com
Neftali / Shutterstock.com

Before I ever wrote a single line, I knew, in some mysterious and therefore unequivocal way, that I was detined for literature. What i didn’t realize at first is that besides being destined to be a reader, I was also destined to be a writer, and I dont think one is less important than the other…My father gave me that advice. He told me to write a lot, to discard a lot, and not to rush into print, so that the first book I had published, Fervor de Buenos Aires, was really my third book. (via)

32. Chelsea Fagan

Because no one ever asks a janitor, “Why do you clean toilets?” and it’s very good for the ego to work in a profession where people assign that kind of importance to what you do, especially in proportion to its overall value in the world. And plus, it allows you to live a variety of incredibly childish lifestyles well into middle age.

33. Marshall McLuhan

John Reeves

Sometimes I wonder. I’m making explorations. I don’t know where they’re going to take me. My work is designed for the pragmatic purpose of trying to understand our technological environment and its psychic and social consequences. But my books constitute the process rather than the completed product of discovery; my purpose is to employ facts as tentative probes, as means of insight, of pattern recognition, rather than to use them in the traditional and sterile sense of classified data, categories, containers. I want to map new terrain rather than chart old landmarks.

But I’ve never presented such explorations as revealed truth. As an investigator, I have no fixed point of view, no commitment to any theory — my own or anyone else’s. As a matter of fact, I’m completely ready to junk any statement I’ve ever made about any subject if events don’t bear me out, or if I discover it isn’t contributing to an understanding of the problem. The better part of my work on media is actually somewhat like a safe-cracker’s. I don’t know what’s inside; maybe it’s nothing. I just sit down and start to work. I grope, I listen, I test, I accept and discard; I try out different sequences — until the tumblers fall and the doors spring open. (via)TC mark

What do some of the world’s most influential and interesting contributors think about subjects important to you? Find out by visiting The Opinionator from The New York Times

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