Why do we write? Why do we spend months, years, even decades engaged in the solitary act of creating a world on paper with no assurance than anyone will read it, except perhaps our immediate family, if only to find out what we think of them?
Sometimes I hear writers say that they have no choice, that the writing chose them. I understand the sentiment – in fact, I believe the drive to create is evolutionary, but to suggest that we have no choice is bullshit, and frankly, a dangerous idea. It’s important to acknowledge that we choose to write, otherwise we risk bondage to our creativity. Our work becomes too important and we may, on a subtle or not subtle level, demand a result that may not be forthcoming. Our lack of choice can make us tight and corrupt the process. We get up in the morning burdened by the chore. We must make something that is great. We must succeed. After all, this is our destiny. And then the horrible thought, “What if it is our fate that God called us to devote our life to a worthless cause?” At least indentured servants aren’t required to pour their hearts and souls into their work!
When we truly have no choice, we tend to rebel. We try to create a choice within our lack of choice, because frankly, everything is creative. Cooking is creative – and so is shoplifting. Giving birth is creative – and so is a knife fight. While there is a productive, life-affirming aspect to creativity, there is a destructive side to it as well. When we create we are simply using our imaginations to make something happen.
Without choice, we become victims. Victims tend to want to rebel, to assert their power, to forge an identity. That identity, the victim identity, tends to see things in a certain way. It is a narrow perspective of the world; hopeless, frugal, and fear-based. Victims live in survival mode, and therefore are unable to see beyond their own panic in order explore new possibilities, to inquire into why things are the way they are.
We all have access to a wider perspective. On some level, the act of creation is a search for love. Love is a subjective term, it is a mystery; something we continually seek to define for ourselves. If we are searching for love from a victim perspective, which is actually quite common, it becomes a search for what love can do for us. It is a way of saying, I am deficient in some way and require someone or something to validate me in order for me to be complete.
On a subconscious level, this is what happens when we believe that our writing chose us. When we accept that we choose to create, we take responsibility. Our eyes are open and we see reality more clearly. We are not seeking to be successful in order for our work to be valid. Our work is already valid, and it moves in the direction of gaining the public’s interest, because the collective consciousness seeks the truth.
When we write, our characters, our creations, are simply a manifestation of our internal beliefs. The plot is simply a backdrop, a field on which these characters act out the struggles we seek to resolve in ourselves.
By continually returning to the awareness that our writing is a choice, we give space for our characters to understand this as well. Our decision to fall in love was a choice. Our decision to get married was a choice. Our decision to get a divorce, stop speaking to our parents, have an affair, abandon our cat, rescue a friend, drink a fifth a whiskey – everything is a choice.
By approaching our work from this perspective of understanding that we always have a choice, we begin to make conscious what was perhaps previously unconscious. By doing this, we begin to UNDERSTAND what we did not previously understand.
And that is the goal of art; to make meaning out of a set of actions. Why did this happen? Why does this pattern continually play out in my life? I can’t speak for animals, but it seems that storytelling is primarily a human enterprise. Animals seek love, but they don’t seek meaning with the relish that we do. They just love. We tend to wonder why we love? This is an aspect of evolution. Evolution is an attempt to resolve a dilemma in order to grow, to become more fully who we are meant to be.
To grow is painful. To be conscious is painful. To make a choice involves discomfort, because it demands that we take responsibility. But it also means that we get to live in reality. To create from a place of fantasy, of groundlessness, is a waste of time. Without a connection to why we are writing, our work becomes merely an escape. There is nothing wrong with losing ourselves in our writing, but we are losing ourselves in an attempt to connect to a deeper sense of our humanity.
Why we write is more important than what we write, because our reason for writing directly influences the content of our work. This is why it is so important to remember that we don’t have to do this. No one is forcing us. The world is not in a rush for more books. There are more great works of fiction, poetry, memoir, history and cookbooks than we will ever have time to consume.
If we’re going to write, it is because we have a sincere desire to express ourselves. Even if we don’t quite understand precisely what we wish toe express. It might just be an inner yearning, but by making the choice to engage in the process rather than the result, our work has a chance to live. In doing so, what we write becomes essential, if only to ourselves, but when we begin from this place, it has a chance to affect the world.