Why do I write?
After reading “Nine Beginnings”, I was left puzzled by Margaret Atwood’s take on a seemingly simple question: “Why do you write?” Why was it so difficult for somebody of her stature to answer? She tried nine different responses, and after all of those, the reader was still left without anything tangible in a form of “I write because such and such”. So, if I tried answering that question myself, what would I say? How would I even go about conjuring a reply? As an experiment, I decided to try recalling the state of my mind when I wrote something recently. I went back and re-read one of my pieces, trying to put myself in my own proverbial shoes. Here is what I remember:
I was arguing against somebody who was very obviously wrong, mistaken, lost, clueless, ignorant, but at the same time full of mockery and self-righteousness. I couldn’t let it stand. I had to teach them a lesson. I wanted to crush them with the force of my carefully crafted rhetoric, wielding mighty article references and carefully sharpened quotes. The fire within me raged while I typed, deleted and retyped again, letters splattering on my screen like drops of blood on my imaginary enemy’s face. Slowly but surely, the battle lines were drawn, my trusty sentences assembling into brutally honest paragraphs. Every once in a while, I’d pause and read the text in its entirety several times, basking in the glory of my own cleverness. There, right in front of my eyes, a fearsome army of Thought was appearing, standing ready to march into the great battle of Reason, bearing my flag of Universal Truth. The sheer strength of my rhetoric seemed awe-inspiring and terrifying. Nothing would be able to stand in the way of my Aristotelian blitzkrieg!
But as much as I seemed to enjoy myself, this game couldn’t last forever. Chasing after wild, untamed thoughts and forcing them into the straightjacket of written text was hard. I was exhausted. Finally, there came a moment when I could no longer bring myself to re-read, criticize and revise anymore. It was all over. The fire within has died. The piece was declared “finished”. One by one, the voices in my head quieted down and everything was silent again.
Did I win? Was my argument good enough? Did I defeat the enemy? Was there even an enemy? Did it really matter? Why did I waste two hours of my life on arguing about something that somebody said about something else that had nothing to do with me whatsoever? Was it to stroke my ego, to show off my knowledge of a narrowly-focused technical subject, citing books that made me look smarter? Or was I trying to educate somebody, to persuade them using logic and references to passages in relevant articles? But what if this was just a meaningless exercise in writing technique, something that I promised myself I’d do more of? Or was this simply a way to pass the time and escape the reality of what was shaping up to be a boring Sunday afternoon? All of the above? None of it?
I considered this example at length, but my thoughts remained confused. No tangible reasons were to be found within. Surely I couldn’t draw any general conclusions about why I write from such outlier of an example. Perhaps I needed to look for another, more representative one before I could even being to answer that question. On the other hand, what does “more representative” mean in this context?