Why do you write?

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

While we’re in January, named for Janus, the god with two faces, the god who looked forward and backward simultaneously, it seems like a good time to reflect and to project.

The question, why do you write? Gives each of us pause as we consider what initially motivated us to write and what keeps us writing–hence the idea of looking backward and forward at the same time.

I did a little research and found some amazing insights on why they chose to write from famous writers. Their quotes will, I think, warm the cockles of your authorial heart.

Anne Lamont:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation…We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Elie Wiesel:

“Authentic writers write even if there is little chance for them to be published; they write because they cannot do otherwise, like Kafka’s messenger who is privy to a terrible and imperious truth that no one is willing to receive but is nonetheless compelled to go on.

“Were he to stop, to choose another road, his life would become banal and sterile. Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:

“The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one’s soul to grow.”

Scott Turow:

“The artist offers a special vision that reframes experience in a way that, although intensely personal, reverberates deeply among us all. To lead and arouse a universal audience seem[s] the writer’s task…

” The practice of criminal law had set me to seething with potential themes: the fading gradations between ordinary fallibility and great evil; the mysterious passions that lead people to break the known rules; the mirage that the truth often becomes in the courtroom…

“Over time I’ve realized that the ideal novel that deeply stirs everyone will never be written. Even Anna Karenina grows tiresome for some readers. The only true transcendence is achieved by the entire family of writers — of artists — who, together, manage to move us all. As individuals we can only dig toward our ruling passions, uncover them and desperately hope, as we fall, to be heard.”

David Mamet:

“God bless the straightforward writer, and God bless those with the ability to amuse, provoke, surprise, shock, appall. The purpose of literature is to Delight. To create or endorse the Scholastic is a craven desire. It may yield a low-level self-satisfaction, but how can this compare with our joy at great, generous writing? With our joy of discovery of worth in the simple and straightforward?”

While few of us could begin to attain to such eloquence, will you share what presses your heart and soul into the bondage of words that you long for others to read?

How does reading these quotes make you feel?

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50 Comments

  • Shirlee says:

    Line me up with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I would write, Janet, even if the only reader was God(and I have a shelf of prayer journals to prove it).

  • What a beautiful way to offer encouragement! Thank you, Janet.

    Reading Scott Turow’s “desperately hope, as we fall, to be heard” brought tears. Growing up, I never wrote much, but I wrote poems. I don’t think I had the confidence. Me? But my first book, like Shirlee said, was written to God and for God because I felt He wanted me to … and hopefully to encourage anyone surviving hardships. And I realized my love for writing! And the project I’m writing now … hopeful to leave a legacy to my girls and hope/encouragement to all children with life-threatening illnesses.

    You blessed my day.

    • Let me just add that what I’m writing now … moving my daughter/co-author to laughter and stirring emotions in her is thrilling. To take children to a place they are too sick to go would be an honor and thrill.

      And I really feel like it’s a walk of faith. When you get stuck … and know you have to come through because you’ve signed a contract … you pour out your heart to God and beg Him for direction … and He always delivers. It’s a sweet walk with Him. And He continually teaches me something new through writing. That sweet walk keeps me writing, too.

  • I write because it’s fun. If it were bondage I’d walk away.

    Reading those quotes make me feel that there are some people who take themselves, and what they do, way too seriously.

    My intellect may need a few paperweights to hold it down in any breeze, but there’s enough trouble in life for me not to want to add to it through a tortured homage to my muse. We’ll dance instead.

  • Micky Wolf says:

    I write [and hope to continue writing] because of what you wrote, Janet. The way you knitted your words and thoughts with the quotes inspires, encourages–and yes, challenges–me to stay the course.

    For me, ‘good’ writing stirs feelings and emotions, and in some situations, elicits a call to action. Not unlike what your sharing will likely accomplish in who knows how many hearts today? :)

    Thank you!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Micky, I agree that good writing stirs emotions in the reader (as Aristotle pointed out to us so long ago). It’s the writer’s job to handle those emotions responsibly.

  • Lori says:

    I identify with Elie Wiesel and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I just feel it is just something I have to do. The fact that I make money from writing anything is a blessing. I would do it even if I didn’t get paid (don’t tell my employer, this will be our secret). There is something about expressing my soul when I write or create something.

  • You’ve really made me think today, Janet. My pat answer is that I write because I want to encourage and inspire others, because I believe God has given me a gift and I want to use it for His glory. And all of that is absolutely true.

    But I also write because I need adult conversation in my homeschooling mommy day of math tests, phonics, and changing diapers. As much as I love being home with my children (it is my first calling), it takes an average of 18 years to grow a child. Sure, there are small accomplishments along the way, and I treasure every one. But finishing a book, writing The End, even when it takes a few months, that’s an accomplishment. I also think the Lord has been nudging me to write romance (totally did not see that one coming!), and a writer friend helped me to see it as writing stories that would encourage and inspire my children as they grow to adulthood and traverse those difficult trails of finding God’s will in a spouse.

    • Loved this, Meghan. Knowing your calling as a mom and also writing for adult conversation…..yes, that makes sense. :) There’s nothing quite like writing “The End” is there? Our own little accomplishments feed the spirit.

    • So glad you’re willing to head in a direction with your writing that you never imagined going before. The Lord knows what you’re capable of, and I love how he uses friends to give us new perspective.

  • “…what presses your heart and soul into the bondage of words that you long for others to read?”

    Bondage?

    Whoa.

    Janet, all those other quotes pale in comparison to what you said.

    (I even pulled off my brand new sling to type my comment…)

    I’ve tried paragraph after paragraph, deleted them and started again.

    For me, it comes down to hope. I want to give my readers hope. Hope that whatever it is that weighs them down, breaks their hearts, and hobbles them from ever rising out of the mire, whatever that is? Jesus can take it, crush it and let it fly like chaff in the wind.
    He alone is the victor in the war. He alone can whisper water into a dry and barren heart, and He alone can rebuild what is crushed.
    He has given me the words to tell a parable that speaks to someone who has cried out for Him, and yet doesn’t know it is Him for whom she cries.

    If I was given the choice of my subject matter, no way would I have chosen a rarely mentioned period in post-Civil War US military history, inter-racial romance, PTSD, widowhood or even cross-cultural adoption and acclimation and the loss of personal culture and history.

    I’d have picked something way harder.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Jennifer, you clearly like a challenge. :-) I so agree with you that God can use words you write in ways you can’t anticipate. I know writers often recount receiving letters from readers who were deeply touched by a message they saw in the author’s writing that the author had no idea was tucked into the words. Uh, that would be God at work.

  • What a thought provoking post. I think I identify most closely with Ann Lamont’s and Kurt Vonnegut’s quotes. Writing (and reading for me) decrease isolation. A well written book moves me beyond myself and into a place of peace. Sometimes it replaces hope and a sense of well-being.

    And, for me anyway, writing grows my soul and keeps me depending on God for the story, for an understanding of the characters, and to remember through the process that my identity is who I am in Jesus, not how great (or not so great) a writer I am.

    Thanks for starting my Monday off with some good thoughts!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      The idea of connecting with others through your writing is not a concept that was wholly formed for me until I read Anne Lamott’s quote. Even as we share our comments here we’re decreasing our isolation.

  • Angela Mills says:

    These quotes make me feel inadequate! I can’t eloquently phrase my desire to write, but the first thing that popped in my mind was that I write because that’s who I am. I have always written, in one form or another. Even when I was in elementary school, I made family newsletters and wrote stories in spiral notebook.

    I’ve had seasons of my life when I was too busy to write, and even then, I was writing in my head all the time. I remember many days, standing over a sink full of dishes and letting my thoughts wander and come up with stories, thinking, ‘I really should get these down on paper.’

    I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why I write, except to say that I feel my most true self when I am writing.

    • Angela, I understand the pull to fill a spiral notebook with stories and memories. This is precisely why I have three boxes of old journals filled with lists, poems, and anecdotes. A record of moments, pivotal and trivial, that have made me who I am today.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Angela, you’re expressing that, inherently, you’re a writer. I think I am too. I’ll go for a walk and think about what words I would use to describe something I see. Or I’ll experience something dreadful and frame words to tell someone about it. Then I’ll reframe the words to make them more eloquent.

  • When someone can’t verbalize anguish because they’ve been silenced, I would like to speak on their behalf. When they feel defeated, I’d like to enunciate hope. When they see fit to whisper what they think because they feel shame in speaking up, I’d be honored to yell for them.
    Through fiction permeated with truth.

  • I’m with Elie Wiesel. If I don’t write I feel like a crucial part of me is missing. Life is dull and I feel trapped.

    I went through a really bad year and a half where my words dried up. I *needed* to write more than I ever had before, but I couldn’t. It was there, but I was trying to dig through the Hoover Dam with a straight pin. I felt like I was dying. I never want to be in that place again. I’d rather go through another divorce than lose my words.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Clearly writing feeds your soul in profound and important ways. While your arid time was painful, it taught you important things about yourself that, I’m sure, inform your writing.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    What an inspiring batch of quotes! Makes me determined to pull out my worn copy of Bird by Bird and refresh myself with Anne Lamott-isms.

  • I write primarily for two reasons. I’m a book-aholic and want to give back some of what books have given to me. And, as my mother used to tell me (not as a compliment) I have SUCH an imagination and that has to come out somehow.

  • What a lovely post to start out my week. As someone who has worked from home for nearly a decade, I definitely relate to and agree with what Anne Lamont says; just as I believe Elie Wiesel’s words ring true for me. I simply can’t imagine not writing after decades of doing it. I did it long before I was published and will continue to do so, no matter what else happens in my life.

  • I resonate with this writer:

    “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16, NKJV)

    Looking at that, I realize I sound awfully sanctimonious. I don’t mean to. I just can’t not proclaim this good news that’s lit a fire in my belly.

  • I often joke that I write to manage my midlife crisis. My husband supports me because it’s cheaper than an inpatient visit to the psychiatric hospital. That’s my way of saying I need to be creative or I’ll bust :o).

    But more than that, I’ve found I write to clarify what’s on my heart, what God gives me to think about, what He wants me to tell others. I’ve learned so much from the process, because when I put the words on the page I both see where I’m right and where I’m wrong. I grow from this, so even if no one else were to see it, God has already used it in profound ways.

  • I write because these silly peeps in my head won’t be quiet…and they keep bringing their friends…and they want to go places…and do things…they make me cry…and laugh…and sometimes, when they’re very, very bad, I just wanna slap ‘em, or grab ‘em and squeeze ‘em real hard…so they know they’re loved!

    But, Elie Wiesel said what I feel so much more eloquently…so, I’m with him!

    Enjoyed the post Janet, and love all the comments! Have a tea-lightful day/week everyone!!

  • Writing provides a way to connect the dots in my life experience. By nature, I’m a deep thinker, so I need to find meaning in all I engage with. My hope is that sharing these life meanings through writing inspires others to consider their own life stories. Connecting my experience with that of others brings further meaning and personal fulfillment. It’s always good to remember the why of our art, so thank you for this, Janet.

  • Ed Hird says:

    Very inspiring quotes, Janet. Thank you. We cannot but write…

    Ed Hird+
    http://edhird.wordpress.com

  • The blog post I’m currently working on is titled: “Writing is Like Skiing.” Substitute any activity at which you’ve had to work hard to learn it, had a blast in the process, and have moments of utter sublime total crazy bliss. And sometimes you get hurt, but, hopefully, not badly.

    When I read erudite, articulate quotes such as you noted, I feel humbled, a little doubtful of myself. I’ll never be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I’ll keep trying to get my ministry of words out there as long as the Lord gives them to me.

  • Like the moose who said – when asked why he flied – I write (fly) because I can.

  • Janet – Me and my dog Dinozzo, both like your NEW bio photo.

  • Anna Labno says:

    I’m FREE when I write. My heart soars. It’s balsalm to my soul.Who can resist any of the above reasons? So I have to write. There is no other way. I love what I do. Every day I grow closer to God.

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