Why Writers Write About Writing


The first time you write, it’s usually out of necessity. But the desire to do it again comes from noticing the weight that a flawlessly crafted sentence takes off you. So you do it some more. You take pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, feeling to logic, thought to idea. You start writing on the rim of your notebook paper, on the wall, in ink on your body. You lull yourself into the kind of comfort that can only come from having the right words at the right time right where you need them to be.

And you realize you could go on about everything. About nothing. About heartbreak and love and loss and what you ate for breakfast and your childhood and your dog. But no matter what you write about, at the core of it all, writers are somehow always writing about writing. About what words can do, about how they look and feel and combine to form emotions and memories. About how doing so moves you, pushes you, lights a little fire you thought was extinguished. Writers are always writing about writing just by the act of doing so.

But as writers are so apt to do, they make it out to be this elusive — even exclusive — thing. The simplicity of the task is compounded by the complexity of what it takes to perform it, and we’re left with people who somehow make the mundane and inevitable extraordinary and meaningful. This, in most contexts, is a wonderful thing. But it shouldn’t make you feel like less of a “writer” if sometimes you miss the mark. I hope I’m not the first to tell you that you don’t have to have a job title to make you one. You’re a writer because you write. And the desire to do so is cyclical. It doesn’t have to be a passion that consumes you all the time. It’s a self-identification, and you’re allowed to ebb and flow out of that. You aren’t indefinitely one thing or another for the rest of your life. You should know that. But what you should also know is that the times in which you are most a writer are usually the times in which you are most trying to clean up your insides.

I’ve never looked at writing as the art itself — rather, just the process, the medium. Writing is not the portrait, it’s the painting. Writing is speaking to yourself, but letting other people overhear the conversation.

The people who are compelled to write down what they feel are the ones who feel it hardest. They make up truths where they didn’t exist before. They put to words what would otherwise go muddled in their minds. Every single writer who can be honest can stand and ratify the fact that wedged between their words, laid subconsciously before them, were great loves and greater losses and deeper insecurities and projected fears. Nothing gets written without the intrinsic motivation to make something confusing and painful clear and beautiful.

And often, what it means to be a writer is to say everything about nothing at all. Writers make commodity out of getting a cup of coffee in the morning. Nothing cannot be twisted into a metaphor, nothing goes unvalued, nothing un-noted. So even when their lives seem average, they make them spectacular. They tell the same story, but the magic of it is that we all have the same stories at the end of the day. The human condition is universal, and though we obviously know that, do we really acknowledge it?

I recently saw a quote that went like this: “we’re all just walking each other home.” And sometimes our maps and hands are offered in words. Sometimes we are lighthouses and sometimes we are lost sailors. Writers know you are best crafted out of being both.

And ultimately, the thing about writing is that it forces you to surrender yourself to uncertainty and vulnerability, which, if you ask me, is the most important task to master. My favorite writer (because you should have a favorite writer; writers are readers who took their obsession with words just a shade too far) Cheryl Strayed once said something along those lines: that the place of unknowing is where the real work gets done — the vulnerable, uncertain place.

You can’t write in fear of mediocrity, because it will ultimately stunt you, and what’s more is that such a label is not for you to put upon yourself. You’ll have good days and better days, stories that a hundred people relate to, stories that other people deem insignificant, stories you deem insignificant. And not one part of that is bad. Because the best things are written out of the dark parts of us. Because things are always scary when they matter. Because things are inherently neutral and we assign value to them, and looking deeply into the words that touch us may be the greatest way — or the only way — of understanding those parts of us.