Writing is my most terrifying desire on the best days and most pestering necessity on the worst. I would agree with Anaïs Nin when she claims that for her it is nothing short of a matter of life and death: “I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me—the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living.”
Nin elegantly reveals what calls us to writing–that innate hunger for more than what is presented to us–but somehow the explanation seems inadequate. This world suggests a refuge, a space for something very precious one has created. This atmosphere seems an ethereal armor against living. And yet writing itself can seem so arduous. Anyone who has taken up this task might wonder why one retreats from imminent destruction only to destroy herself more? Why would she isolate and give up life?
There are endless reasons not to write. The sickening vulnerability that all we contain will be exposed on the page. The sheer intimidation of one’s predecessors peeking from the bookshelves is enough to toss down the pen. If we recall Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” we might even feel our worst sentences are polluting the canon before they’ve even been written.
But I write towards the living not the dead. In The Passion According to G.H. the speaker says, “I had reached the nothing and the nothing was living and moist” (Lispector). I am writing past everything I know to some place of gestation, to the heart of life itself.
If Mark Rothko paints large in order to be intimate, I write long in order to do the same. I write long sentences towards an unpredictable place to allow for an alchemy with my reader. I may sit down at my desk intending to tell the story of a seamstress, or capture the absurdity of a child chasing a goose while a couple’s relationship unravels; I may want my readers to feel lighter, or touched, or ripped to shreds with every winding sentence, but I proceed knowing the effect is beyond my control. All I can do is call to you, my reader, with everything I have.
This thought comes from Cixous who says in her essay “The Last Painting” that as a writer she “is a being who paints mimosas by phone…I gather words to make a great straw yellow fire, but if you don’t put in your own flame, my fire won’t take, my words won’t burst into pale yellow sparks. My words will remain dead words. Without your breath on my words there will be no mimosas.”
I write towards a life only my readers can resurrect.
When the task of writing grows inevitably arduous—and seemingly thankless—we must remember why we started. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” this introspective project highlights our motives for writing. Share your story and join the conversation. Live events are produced throughout the diverse cities of Orange County and feature author readings from curated essay submissions.
- Write a 500-word essay explaining why you write.
- Submit via Submittable.
The 1888 Podcast Network is a curated collection of educational and entertaining podcasts. Each program is designed to provide a unique platform for industry innovators to share stories about art, literature, music, history, science, or technology.