Why do I write?

Better yet, why do I say I want to write?

I’ve been asking myself these questions for the last few months.

I’ve had some difficulty coming up with answers.

I know why I have said for many years that I am a writer, or that I want to be a writer.

I’ve said it because everybody is expected to be something. Usually, what they’re expected to be is defined exactly by what they do for money. You’re either a plumber, or an electrician, or a lawyer, or a banker, or…the list goes on.

“What do you do?”

“What are you going to do when you finish college?”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I hear questions like that again and again. I’ve heard them for years, maybe my entire life. If you’re anything like me, then you probably have too.

So “I’m a writer,” that was my answer. It might not be a very prestigious answer. Nobody is ever sure how to classify it. It doesn’t exactly make anyone’s face light up with enthusiasm or interest. But it’s something; it’s an answer. It’s a nice segue into changing the subject. Usually something related, like gee, aren’t textbook prices high, isn’t tuition expensive, etc. etc.

The truth is, I always thought I wanted to be a writer. Scratch that; I always thought I wanted to write. I read something in high school that Kierkegaard once wrote, “When you label me, you negate me.” How could I have taken that phrase to heart and still let myself feel so pushed into accepting a label?

The stories I (theoretically) want to write have been brewing in my head for years. That’s what I’ve really loved doing all these years: dreaming up stories. Listening to music and creating music videos in my head, then creating a back-story for the mental-visuals. Spending boring moments alone waiting in line, or sitting in a restaurant alone between classes, or sitting in my car in the parking lot, spending all this time imagining plot structures, figuring out how things intersect. I’d imagine how different characters would get along, I’d imagine grand moments and, perhaps most often, climactic, emotional endings. Movies would form and play repeatedly in my mind. I dreamed of writing them and, perhaps just as much, making actual movies of them. Writing, of course, was the base goal; the cost is negligible to sit down and write a story, filmmaking is expensive.

So why don’t I write? And when I do write, why do I write?

Maybe I should look to the past. Why did I write?

I remember as a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I drew crude comic strips. First it was things like “Batman Meets the Shadow meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Then it was single-panel things, inspired by Gary Larsen’s The Far Side.  I still have some of these. Looking back on them, there wasn’t much in the way of nuance; I managed to cut down the serious, brooding, emotionally intense plotlines of Batman: The Animated Series into scenarios in which Batman beats someone up and then makes fun of them for having a big butt.

It didn’t exactly seem like the makings of a master storyteller, did it? Then again, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

I don’t know if I even wrote anymore after that through grade school. School itself was a source of frequent stress and misery. Up through college, I found it difficult to spend all day with a pen or keyboard, writing things that were meaningless to me, and then come home and pick those tools up again and craft a story. At the end of the day, I wanted an escape, and that escape usually took the form of television or videogames. I can’t really blame myself, then or now.

There were some exceptions, though. I remember in 7th grade having this idea for a bizarre story set in a surreal universe. It seemed so funny to me I could barely keep from giggling in class; it was a story about a middle-aged woman who, it was implied, was married to a chair that she believed to be sentient, and a group of boys in her neighborhood who shoved strawberry cake down their pants. My sense of humor has always been unusual.

I wrote three of those stories by hand during stolen moments in class, or study hall. I remember the first one flowed, naturally, and I loved it. I loved writing it and I loved reading it. In retrospect, it may be one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever created. The second one was pretty funny too, but not as easy to write. The last one was forced, neither fun to write nor particularly fun/funny to read.

Perhaps that’s the lesson my past has to teach me. Writing should be fun, and I can’t force it. The expectation of a certain result stifles the creative flow, either recreating a past success or attempting to emulate something else or just worrying about any particular aspect of finishing it. I don’t think I ever wrote anymore stories in that series, after that initial streak of writing the three in 7th grade.

I wrote other things in high school. I wrote other things that were surreal, abstract, strange, stories that defied interpretation or explanation. They weren’t all ultimately very fun to read, but I think they were fun to write, and those elements made them fun for me. I like to write things that defy logic, things that are unexplainable, that simply “are what they are.”

If it’s fun to write a story, then that story is a success. If it’s fun to read that story afterwards, then it’s a big success. If other people like to read that story, then that’s a bonus. If the people who like your work provide you with great conversations, or even become great friends, then that’s a gift.

That’s what I’ve come to realize.

So where do I go from here? Why don’t I write more often? Am I just lazy? Did college burn me out? Or is it something else?

Perhaps it’s the way, when I tell a relative I just finished writing a story, their first response is: “So what are you gonna do with it?” That just kills it. It kills the fun. It kills the magic. It’s saying that just writing isn’t enough. You have to make money, you have to sell you work, you have to sell yourself. Writing isn’t enough; no, you have to be a writer. As one relative recently put it, “but is [writing] even a real job?

Expectation kills it. It takes you out of the moment. You can’t focus on writing when you’re focused on eBook distribution and marketing and the approval of your family and friends and of deflecting those “so what do you do?” questions and looking busy and looking like what you do is legitimate and a real job and whether or not there’s an audience for the things you write, the things you like but maybe nobody else does.

I write because I enjoy writing, because it’s fun. When it isn’t, I don’t write.

The restlessness, the misery I’ve felt is, I think, a result of this sense of expectation. It’s the worry of “will I write that big novel by the time I die?” It’s the worry of “can I make this series just perfect, and avoid plot holes and contradictions and etc.?” It’s the worry of looking busy so I don’t look like a bum to everyone else.

The only answer I can find is to just be a bum. Embrace it. Own it. Simplify. Be creative bum. If I don’t really feel like writing, I won’t. I have to find the fun of it. That’s the only way. Everything else would just be the same as school and college, the world of obligations without any meaning, purpose, or life in it. But I think I can find the fun of it again. I wrote this same blog post months ago and didn’t finish it. I didn’t like how it turned out, and I didn’t feel like editing it. So I quit. And then inspiration hit again, and I feel it again, and though it’s a little uncertain, I feel good about it. So here we are.

I don’t know where this will lead. It may be the beginning of a wonderful burst of productivity on my blog. It may be the beginning of writing a massive novel, or a short story. It may be the last thing I ever write.

None of that really matters. What matters is that I lived this moment thoroughly, and I enjoyed it. That is success, and I am satisfied. I still don’t know why I write, or why sometimes I “want to” but don’t feel like it. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the moment is filled with life, life in the moment, not thoughts in the past or future. This moment has been lived, I enjoyed writing in this moment, and I am satisfied. It was a success. If I read it again later and enjoy it, then it’ll be a big success.

If you read and enjoyed it, that’s a huge bonus.

If you want to share your own stories of creativity, struggling with expectations (your own or those of others) feel free to comment or contact me. I’d love to hear from you. I’d consider that a gift.

Special thanks to Leo Babuta, author of Zen Habits, for all the inspiration he’s given me. Go read “Just for Fun” right now. Another special thanks to my friend Dane, for sending me an email just now that inexplicably created the desire within me to write this post without delay. He’s currently taking commissions on his DeviantArt account, and he does fantastic work, so consider throwing a few dollars his way if you feel like having some original artwork done.

All the best to you,

Leo

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