M. G. Stephens

Why we write, I have no idea; but why I write, I think, I have some idea. I write because I am not a good baseball player or I write because I can’t sing worth a damn; I write because the sun is shining or my shoelace broke—and it was my favorite pair of shoes. Sometimes I write because, for no other reason than I can, I do. I have very little choice in the matter, anyhow; it is what I do best, even if it is far from perfect. It is what I have called myself—a writer—for so long that there is nothing else to do but to write.

I got the idea in my head when I was around eight years old. I had read a cowboy novel in the local library. It was about Wyatt Earp, who also was a popular character on American television in the 1950s. We were too poor to afford a television. By “we,” I don’t mean me and the other writers, the we of that first paragraph (see above). The we of this paragraph were my natal family, mother, father, the horde of children I called my siblings. So instead of feeling bad about not having a television set, I managed to find a book in the local library about the character that everyone was talking about in the schoolyard. Now I too knew who Doc Holliday was, and the various gunfighters who plagued Dodge and other Western towns and cities. Never play cards with a man named Doc; wasn’t that one of Nelson Algren’s rules for writers? Or was it that you should never eat at a place called Mom’s?

There were times in my life when I could as easily claim to be a teacher or an editor or even authority on one thing or another as calling myself a writer. But I have been a writer longer than anything else I have done. If I could have played basketball as well as Allen Iverson—we are around the same height—I guess I would have preferred to be a basketball player. If I could box as well as Sugar Ray Robinson, I would have been a boxer. But instead I became a writer because I believed that it was what I did best. Why we write is something that baffles me, but also amazes. Think of all the great writers, not just in time, but in our own time. I thank the universe for their being writers. But why they write, those great ones, I have no idea. Maybe they wanted to be basketball players and boxers, ballet stars or concert pianists, doctors or research scientists. But instead we all wrote; we became writers.

Photo credit: S. E. Wolan