Why I Write

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Very simply, it’s to endure.

George Orwell, in his 1946 essay, wrote about the “four great motives for writing”: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. He believed that most quality writing arises out of some combination of these. Joan Dideon, a writer whose work has always been a source of both admiration and agony for me, writes in her December 5, 1976 New York Times essay, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

I write every day. I carry a small notebook in my purse or pocket to jot down a sensation, involuntary memory, overheard conversation, amusing sign, something to research, or a zygote of an idea. The Notes app on my iPhone does well in a pinch, too. I mine these miniature collections for reminders and patterns.

I free write for at least twenty minutes every morning or evening, in longhand, in a journal. My favorite for the past decade has been the Moleskine Cahier unlined journal with the kraft brown cardboard cover in both pocket and XL sizes. Very specific, I know. But I could write a whole love poem to its form: Shall I compare cahier to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more acid free: Rough winds do shake the unlined leaves of …

In said journals, I expand upon something I jotted down earlier. I write about whatever is coming up for me at the moment. I write to try and figure out what the hell just happened. I write letters that I will never send. I write ideas for more writing. I resume writing about unfinished ideas. I give myself a judgement-free place to create.

Writing is additive. It is messy. I give myself permission and space to write completely free from editing. Sometimes I need to taxi on the runway for a bit before something really takes off. I’ve learned that most writing does not start at the beginning, flow forth fully formed, and then stop when one reaches the end. There is always more paper and there is always more ink.

Writing is a gathering, building, and adding—performed as unselfconsciously as possible. Writing has helped me endure what I’ve lived, and the glorious mess of writing provides the foundation for something that will endure.