Monday, February 16, 2015

Why do we write?

(Criticism and the arts, part 2)  

I saw the movie “Birdman” last weekend. Michael Keaton plays a former movie star/action-hero (Birdman) named Riggin Thomas, who opted out of the “Birdman” franchise years ago, and hasn’t had much success since. Thomas adapts the Raymond Carver story “What we Talk About When we Talk About Love,” for Broadway, and is writing and directing the play in the hopes that it will revitalize his career.

One of my favorite scenes features Edward Norton, who plays Michael Shiner, a not-so-likable-character who drives Thomas (and others) crazy before and during the play. In one scene, though, he defends Thomas to a theater critic sitting in a bar. (I’m paraphrasing) 
He’s taking a chance. He’s willing to lose everything for this. What are you willing to lose?

So why do we do it? Why do we create art? Why bother, when we know people will line up to tell us what we are doing wrong. Many writers, artists and musicians get the “art” beat out of them early, and stop. But others who are hurt just as badly continue. Why?

Is it that you want to change the world, or share a story that is bigger than you? A story can offer a new perspective or understanding of a topic, or maybe you want to connect with people - make them laugh or cry. Perhaps it’s just that you want to get something off your chest. Writing can be cathartic, and make you feel better. Or do you think your story can help someone who is struggling in the same way you struggled?

Does fame or recognition play a role in the process? A healthy ego is necessary to put forth any art in the world, so is that what drives you? Or is it money? Is writing just a job that pays the bills?

Maybe it’s all of those things, or a little bit of those things all rolled into one big giant unknowable reason that has no definitive answer. So, I'll ask again - why do you write? And what would you be willing to lose?

Write soon,



  1. Mary--

    Another thought-provoker. For me it's not money. I'm not that kind of a writer. (Although CS money IS helping pay for a summer trip.)

    Fame? I don't think that will ever happen for me.

    Connect. That's--I think--why I write. I love to think that my story will connect with at least one person.

    Now for the tougher question: What would I be willing to lose? I guess my self-esteem (at least temporarily) when I go to critique sessions or whenever I submit something. My self-respect (again, just momentarily) when I stalk a publisher or editor.

    Those are things I DO lose at times. As far as what I would be willing to lose, perhaps my comfortable box. I would be willing to be thrown into a state of disequilibrium... if it meant that I would grow as a writer.

    I am going to check back. I'm curious about what others are going to say.

  2. Fame? Well, that would be nice but not expecting it for sure.
    Money? Well, yes and no. I want money because money in our society equals validation. I want to be hear my efforts are worth something.
    Change the world? At one time yes, but mostly now I would like to think a story brought someone pleasure. (I have written two pieces that ended up being read at funerals that reduced people to tears in vividness. That says I captured segments of life in words.)
    Mostly I write for myself...the act of creation. I fall in love with some of my characters. I want to see them grow, to learn.
    Whether it is writing a story or reading a novel, that side of me must be fed or I become nasty, sorry to say. There is a real physical shortage of something in me if I don't get to think creatively with words.

  3. Writing is a creative outlet for me. I like toying with words. Validation and money are nice, but I like to think my words make an impact.

    I have lost a lot of time and effort to projects that paid off minimally or not at all, but brought recognition. This was fun.

  4. I know it's a pretty big question, and I don't think I could answer it as well as you three have, so thank you for your thought-provoking responses. I can say that I probably write for some of all the reasons I mentioned, and fame and fortune would be great, but after teaching for so many years, I'm moved by the connections we make in class, and am beginning to realize their importance. I also believe those connections occur in all forms of communication and art, and that they can help us understand the world, and each other, a little better.

  5. I've always admired people who have the ability to give snappy come backs and witty off-the-cuff remarks. I express myself much better when I can think, write, and tweak my words. Of course, that's not a very helpful skill at a dinner party.

    Critter Alley