Hey everyone! I did some revising of my “Why I Write” essay last night after our in-class workshops. I just wanted to post my current draft here in the hopes that some of you may be able to help me further refine things! Any and all commentary is welcome and appreciated. Thanks 🙂
Why I Write
If this essay seems manipulative, misleading, amusing, sarcastic, and confusing, then I’ve done my job. The job of a writer is always to influence his readers. He gets to choose how and why this influence is executed. So, my initial list of adjectives may tip you off as to what I’m about to do. Or, they may not. Herein lies the joy of writing! I get to try and sway you any which way that I please. Maybe I’ll tell you a story, maybe I’ll present an argument; you won’t know until you read the next few sentences, even the next few paragraphs. It’s fun to manipulate people! Is this the primary aim of all forms of writing? From a certain perspective, it certainly is, if you understand “manipulation” as the handling or controlling of something in order to achieve a specific outcome.
Please excuse me if I sound cynical. I simply understand that you probably don’t want to listen to the charming tale of my childhood. There was no shining authoritative figure who said to me “You’re a writer, Evan.” It would’ve been nice to have somebody bust down the door and bring me a letter confirming that I was, indeed, destined to be a writer. Maybe my mother could be one of those figures. She taught me how to “fluff up” my essays with the first science fair reports I ever wrote. It surely wasn’t my father, he’s a math guy. I am not compelled to write by the harrowing demons of my past, nor out of a desire to change the evil leanings of this cruel world. Maybe my affinity for writing came from my musical background. When I started playing tuba in middle school, I developed a fascination for the manipulation of rhythm and melody, without realizing that it would influence my later desire to write things. I learned how to play the bass guitar a few years later and I became interested in the process of writing lyrics since I was listening to so much rock and heavy metal music. Rhyming and cool-sounding words were my mental sustenance for the majority of my middle- and high-school years. It was only in English class that I was able to relish in the material; the language is literally music to my ears.
To be completely honest with you, and myself, I’ve mostly wrote because my classes required me to. That’s not to say that I never enjoyed it, because I did, but was no young Orwell. I never took time as a kid to sit down and try to write a story. I created well-thought-out arguments because I was required to do so. Yes, I read tons of books when I was young; I devoured novels and poetry. Yes, I enjoyed English more than other subjects in school. Yes, I was praised for writing well and having a strong command over grammar and rhetoric. None of this made me want to write. Maybe it was a precursor to my current desire, though. The giving of praise has an interesting way of guiding people into believing things.
I didn’t attempt to read Milton until I was 15. I can guarantee you that I didn’t chuckle at couplets I found amusing for their clever rhyme or vague implications. I hated Paradise Lost because I couldn’t understand where the Hell the story was going. I also probably wouldn’t have made such a terrible pun as an adolescent. I never looked outside and thought that the concentric rings on the trunk of a palm tree reminded me of a worm’s curling body. I never wanted to describe the the imperfect edges of my hand-crafted wooden desk with elegant and refined prose. I wrote because I didn’t have a choice. I was being manipulated by the very medium through which I and my current peers attempt to manipulate others.
Obviously, I didn’t have much to write about when I was younger. I’m not sure I have all that much more to write about now. Can a twenty-year-old college student answer with any certainty why they do anything at all? If it were up to most of us, we would probably elect to sleep during the majority of the day. As a youngster, I couldn’t really write about myself because I didn’t have any reason to do so, or many memories to draw upon as inspiration. My vocabulary was limited, and I had yet to read the classics that would introduce wholly different worldviews to my developing mind. I didn’t know that Frankenstein was more than a horror story. I didn’t know that To Kill a Mockingbird would change the way I understood racism. I never would’ve guessed that Albert Camus’s beautifully manipulative prose would resonate with me as an angsty high school senior, and that I would feel my own story told in that of Mersault’s.
Maybe now I write because I feel more and more like a Stranger, like there is something wrong with my eyes. I thought everyone saw the glittering of snowflakes in the sun as tiny fairies flitting and darting around in a ritual dance. Maybe now I write because I never wrote for my own satisfaction as a youngster. If only I had the same amount of free time now as I did back then. I’d have a few New York Times bestsellers on the shelves by now.
I write to discover the world, to decrypt my emotions, to destroy my preconceived notions about life. These may sound like somewhat lofty aspirations, especially the first and last of the bunch. I think many writers, and many people that do not even consider themselves to be writers, can relate to that second item on the list. But, the act of writing is even more than these for me. I write because I want to see the future through the lens of the past, to challenge Muad’Dib in his prescient superiority. I write because I want to experience the torture of wearing an “A” on my chest without committing the acts that would make me deserve such a punishment. I write because I want to work in a pants factory or as a hot dog vendor and to take frightening Greyhound bus rides from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. I write because I can do anything, I can be anyone, and I can say anything with some paper and ink. I write because I’m selfish and want to experience these adventures alone. Or maybe I truly write because I’m vain and narcissistic and want everybody to pay attention to me. Maybe I want readers to think I am Paul Atreides, Hester Prynne, or Ignatius J. Reilly. With enough evidence, persuasion, and conviction, I probably could make someone think that I am the living manifestation of one of those characters. It all boils down to the need to manipulate others into thinking what I think, which is the aim of all writers, whether or not they like to admit it. It’s obvious if one invests some thought in the concept. Even the most noble cause’s goal is to persuade people to believe a certain idea. Writing is the core of that persuasion.
I won’t lie to you and tell you that I write because I need to. It’s not some strangely obsessive compulsion. I also won’t tell you that I don’t know why I do it. All the teachers who manipulated me with their praises taught me how to do the same with my writing. Now I write because I want to, even if I have to.
I will reward whoever reads this with a lovely .gif of Darth Vader doing the moonwalk: