Erum Khan

I’ve asked myself this question a lot over the years. Why do I write? Most of the time it comes in the form of a joke along with a knowing and resigned shrug between fellow writers. Writers often carry this hypothetical like a God-given mantle, as if it is something we can’t help but for the most part have learned to live with. Sometimes, though, when my eyes have glazed over from late night revisions or yet another rejection email, the question loses its wry humor. I get the urge to look at myself in the mirror and really ask: Why?

I have had many happy days pass me by when writing was the last thing on my mind. When I didn’t touch a pen (or keyboard, or touchscreen) and was perfectly content not creating anything. I’d see friends making money in finance and technology and think to myself, why wasn’t I interested in anything in that world? Why had I decided I was fit to go down this difficult road when I wasn’t even sure I had anything important to say? If I had read Robert Frost sooner, maybe I would have realized what a lonely, icy road it really was.

But then there are the days I pick up a new book, or one I’ve already lost myself in time and time again. I dive in headfirst and only come up for air when the author decides I’ve reached the end of their story. I emerge wearing new lenses, a way to see the world in front of me that for a few days feels totally my own. I am happy, alone in this cocoon, and thankful to the person who wove it for me with mere words.

Those lenses and that gratitude become reasons enough to write. Pride over a modicum of skill does not cut it. It lasts only as long as a sugar high and comes with a crash that is ten times as exhausting every time a draft is less than worthy, which is often. But seeing the world in a series of moments, of days to be learned from, of stories to be told—giving someone a sense of gratitude, changing their world through something I was uniquely able to express, even if only for a few minutes—that is enough.

I started writing when I was a kid because I found words came easily to me. I still do because, quite frankly, this is the only way I know how to see the world. I was given a new pair of glasses every time I read, and now I want to craft a pair for someone else out there. I know there is so much I miss in my condensed snippets of reality fantasy. But that’s why we all keep at this, to get as much down as we can. And if I don’t get to something, maybe you will. And on, and on, and on…