I am a writer. I create. I dream. My head is in the clouds most of the time, which is probably why I am still reeling somewhat from the Publishing Conference I attended last weekend. Called “The Suitcase Under the Bed Seminar”, it was a very authoritative look at the business of publishing, run by two publishing experts with a wealth of experience and knowledge. There were stats—rather sobering stats—on the (small) number of readers in South Africa, and the (low) average book sales in our country. There was a discussion on the (vast) number of manuscripts received every month, and the (rare) writers who receive a contract.
It was informative and sobering and I’m (generally) glad I heard it all, even if my head dropped out of the clouds to hover somewhere in the lower branches of a tree. Yet, in the midst of the healthy reality-dose, one of the speakers, Alison, asked something very profound, which I’ve been churning on this entire week. She asked, “Why do you write?”
Why do I write?
It should be a simple question to answer, but it isn’t. There is a tangle of motivations, longings, emotions and dreams bound up in that single, short question. Let me unravel a few of the main strands.
I write because…it is who I am in the deepest part of me. To not write feels like a betrayal of myself. A stunting. A death.
I write because…it helps me comprehend the world. In describing emotions, I have to dig deep, beyond the superficial level of my own—or another’s—heart. To create a scene requires more than a cursory glance; it requires seeing and perceiving, hearing and understanding, tasting and experiencing.
I write because…I long to connect with others. Words are dry when they tumble from my lips. They crack and warp with nervousness. But on the page, my words sing and dance with joy. They come alive, at least for me, which makes me hope they come alive for others too.
I write because…I love to be surprised. I am a wife and mother. I cook, clean, drive, listen and counsel. My life is full of routine and schedules. Yet the moment I drop into a story, everything changes. I’m somewhere else and anything can happen. Even as the creator of the story, the twists and turns delight me, because often I do not see them coming. For an hour or two each day, I live different and more exciting lives, and the spark of that ignites my own predictable life with joy and purpose too.
I write because…I hope my words will touch and change hearts and lives. Maybe there is something a bit arrogant about this—thinking that I have something to offer the world. Yet, I am unable to deny this deep longing, which is the reason why I can’t just enjoy writing the story, and then let the manuscript languish in the suitcase under the bed.
In short, I am compelled to write, despite the sobering stats and meagre chances of finding a publisher. I am grateful to Alison for asking the question (in fact, she asked four questions, but maybe that’s material for another blog post).
For now, it is enough to know that I write because I am a writer. You might all be glad to hear (unless you’re a publisher with a huge slush pile) that my head just broke through the low cloud cover as I typed that.
Why are you compelled to write?
We posted this article with permission of Joan Campbell of South Africa. It was originally published on her blog. Thank you, Joan!
Photo above: Joan Campbell (left) gets feedback from MAI Trainer Lawrence Darmani at a workshop for South African writers.