Why Do We Write? A New Year’s Exploration!

ON THE LAST NIGHT OF EVERY WORKSHOP, I used to end with an exercise by Natalie Goldberg.* It’s pretty simple. List a dozen reasons that you write. They can be Work with mecommon-sensical: I write to communicate, or farther-fetched: I write because the fairies want to speak to me, and when I scribble fast enough, they take over my pen and let me know what they have to say.

Fortunately, there are an infinite number of points along the continuum between common sense and, um, fairies! For instance, here’s my (current) list:

  • I write because my father wished he were a writer, so I do it for him.
  • I write because it gives me something to do with my hands, and I’m no good at needle crafts.
  • I write because when I settle down on the couch with a pen and notebook, all three cats come and sit near me.
  • I write because sometimes a pleasing turn of phrase or odd story emerges unexpectedly from my pen.
  • I write because all of my friends are writers.
  • I write because I love the visual pattern my handwriting makes across the page.
  • I write because I have about seventeen gazillion books on writing—and they’re all inspiring!
  • I write because it’s fun to do in a café (and might even make me look interesting).
  • I write because I have a blog and a book to finish.
  • I write because I have things to say about writing and about tarot.
  • I write because it’s expected of me.
  • I write because nothing feels quite as good as having written!

Writing prompt

It’s the end of the year, a good time to take stock. Make yourself a cup of nog or indulge in a sweet, flavored coffee (’tis the season, after all) and dig in to this question: Why do I write? As with any free-writing exercise, move your hand (or fingers) as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think. Get as far beneath the common-sensical as you’re able. Who knows? If you dive deep enough, you might find a few fairies to chat with!

TABLE FOR TWO?
As years of workshops attest, this is a wonderful prompt to do with others. So instead of going it alone, grab a café table and a friend, set a timer, and see who can get the most items scrawled on their list in ten minutes. (Although I asked workshoppers to find twelve reasons they write, going further, to fifty or even a hundred reasons, can really loosen up your brain and get it to bring wilder, more exciting ideas to the fore!)

WRITING RESOLUTION
Once you’ve got your “why’s” for writing, you might use one or more items on your list to guide you as you form your New Year’s writing resolution. Knowing why we write can create a foundation that supports our writing throughout the year—long after we’ve torn off January’s calendar page.

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*You’ll find Goldberg’s Why I Write exercise and its accompanying essay in her first book on writing, WRITING DOWN THE BONES.

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