Why I Write Response

After reading the three “Why I Write” pieces, I feel like I gained some insight into my own reasons for writing. I’m sure I had thought of these things before, but reading them from other writers brought substance to these ideas. The most profound essay, in my opinion, was Didion’s “Why I Write.” It summated the purpose of writing and it portrayed an exciting sense of mystery and optimism. However, her reasons for writing came with another sense of challenge and stress, which was illustrated in both Orwell and Sullivan’s reasons for writing.

Didion ends her essay by saying “…had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.” She explained how the creation of characters, typically based on real places and people, led her on a sort of investigative path. I believe that writers have some question or emotion that motivates them to write. Even when there may not be a question initially, they arise through the process of writing because of its reflective nature. The most unique quality of writing is the reflection and consciousness involved in producing a piece. In a conversation, words come out of thin air, with little or no cognition. I rarely sift through words when I’m talking, and when a conversation is over, it is difficult to recollect the exact words I used. Moreover, the progress of the conversation is not tangible. The words dissipate as fast as they are produced, and there are few remnants of what was said. In writing, however, we are able to make stylistic choices and explore many options to best portray an idea. As Didion said, “All I know about grammar is its infinite power…the arrangements of words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind.” This was an extremely exciting and fresh idea for me. I had always thought of grammar (specifically grammar being taught in a classroom) as a miserable burden. The dry grammar lessons were torturous enough, but the fact that I had to follow these rules seemed oppressive. Didion’s point made grammar seem not only important, but also crucial for creativity. In my past writing courses, I rarely edited down to the level of word placement. I did the quick spell check, then checked for basic grammatical errors, and looked at the piece in its entirety. I would check for shitty word placement, or things that just sounded weird, but I’ve never actually interacted with the words. I think this concept could really propel my writing ability and spark more passion when I write.

Writing can also be an intimidating process, as illustrated by Sullivan and Orwell. Sullivan said, “Writers can be sensitive, vain souls…” This, combined with Orwell’s idea of all writers being egotistical, makes writing feel very threatening. As Didion said, writers basically say “listen to me” when they create a piece. I agree with all of these statements, because they reflect how I feel when I write. Until last year, I dreaded peer revision. I was overly sensitive and thought I knew what was best for my writing. This hypersensitivity to the critique of others hindered my writing. Gradually, I realized that the input of others is extremely useful and my writing always benefits from a variety of perspectives. I feel like Orwell may exaggerate the selfishness of writers, but he is definitely on the right path. I had a professor tell me that we write because we believe we can do a better job than others, and that we want to fill a literary void with our own ideas. I believe it is important for writers to be somewhat selfish. I rarely consider whom I am writing for. I write what I find interesting, inspiring, controversial, or creative and if it finds an appreciative audience, all the better. Writers can be selfish because technology has made writing a more accessible craft. We can find a forum to disperse ideas all over the Internet, and with the enormous number of writers and readers, we are bound to find our niche. The age of blogging has made everyone a writer, so it is the duty of writers to write selfishly. Writing would lose purpose if it becomes a homogeneous group of ideas, and I believe the advancement of writing depends on selfish writers.

I think the underlying theme between the three pieces is the human element of writing. The selfishness of the writer, the feedback from bloggers, and the expression of creativity are driven by the human need for self-expression. This human element will always be the focal point of writing, and gives us writers the ability to constantly grow alongside writing as it evolves.



2 thoughts to “Why I Write Response”

  1. Clinton,

    It is clear that Didion’s piece provoked deep thoughtfulness for you. You’re right, thinking of grammar as an important part of style and beautiful literature is strange, because the subject itself seems so dry. I agree that writing (rather than speaking) gives us the power to play with grammar and toy around with sentences until they contain the exact content and rhythm that the author wants. Personally, I feel that I often have a difficult time properly vocalizing my thoughts because I do not have the time to analyze the words and grammar that I am using. In this way, writing is a nice outlet for careful and accurate expression.

    I was struck by your point that you think it is important for all writers to be a little bit selfish in order to confidently write and share their ideas. However, couldn’t this also be seen as selfless? You and Didion both seem to understand that writers can be sensitive about their own writing. Could it not then be seen as selfless to share it and become vulnerable to the world’s judgement? Your piece flowed and showed a lot of deep thinking. Thank you for prompting me to reflect on what you call the “human element of writing” and how our nature affects our identity as writers.


    1. Clinton,

      I loved your paragraph about word choice and grammar. I know that you said that you rarely get down to individual word edits, but I think that they can be important. Sometimes, just finding the perfect word to go into a specific spot in a paper can make you feel so much better about the paper in general (at least, that’s how it’s been in my experience). I think grammar is very important too. It’s similar to what we talked about in class in regards to style- it can help you learn to trust a certain author and the way they write. I also think that, in fiction, grammar can also help to create characters. Even the purposeful use of incorrect grammar can, sometimes, really help to create a piece of writing.

      I strongly agree that writers are supposed to be a little selfish. I especially liked the comment about peer revision. I understand how terrible it can be, especially when your peers attack the part of a piece of writing that happens to be your favorite part. Even though they do it nicely, it can still be hard to listen to their critiques, even if you know that they’re right. And I agree that it gets at the very core of a writer’s selfishness. I also thought it was interesting that you brought up that all of the articles seemed to be getting at the same concept, which is the humanness of writing. It is such a human thing, to be a little selfish and to interact with each other, and to express ourselves, which is what writing ultimately allows us to do.


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