Hemingway and Raison D’Etre

AspenResearching what others had to say about “reasons to write” recently, I came across these tidbits (in descending order)

3) People want to read what I have to say

2) Give yourself a feeling of accomplishment

1) To be able to tell everyone you’re a writer!

Really? The #1 reason a writer writes is so s/he can hang out a shingle and crow from the rooftops, “Hey everyone! I’m a writer!”

I’m not too sure about “give yourself a feeling of accomplishment” or “people want to read what I have to say.” I get that, but are reasons #2 or #3 what really drive you to write, deep down? Is your drive to write a combination of two or more of the above?

Here’s another: “A writer’s sense of self-esteem is wrapped up in writing. When we don’t write we feel unfulfilled. When we make progress with our writing projects, the world feels right again.”

I get the “world feels right again” part. But self-esteem wrapped up in writing? If that’s true, then some uber talented writers must have had “self-esteem” in the basement. Consider the following excerpts from actual rejections received by established authors:

  1. Sylvia Plath: There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
  2. Rudyard Kipling: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
  3. J. G. Ballard: The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
  4. Emily Dickinson: [Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
  5. Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.

So let me ask: Why do YOU write?

Cause for Commitment?

Most writers I know who are committed to the craft write for one over-arching reason: they write because they can’t not write. And make no mistake, if you’re a serious writer, writing is a commitment. It’s not something you dabble in or play it. It’s work. Rewarding and fulfilling, yes. Sometimes the words come easy. Sometimes not. But a real writer is into words and stringing them together to communicate like Hershey’s is after chocolate.

Think of it this way: If a writer’s vein is cut, ink flows out. Or as Ernest Hemingway* said,

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Some have criticized this observation, equating writing with torture. Maybe. But I think they miss the point. I think what Hemingway is trying to convey is that for a serious writer, writing is who you are, heart and soul. Your essence.  Your life blood.

What say you?

Misty lake, pineFor a serious writer,  ‘reasons to write’ includes – but goes far beyond – “I have something I want to say” or generating a feeling of accomplishment.

Writing isn’t just something you do. It’s  your blue sky. Your open meadow or misted lake awaiting the spring sun. 

Writing is your raison d’etre.

Writing is what makes you tick. Gets you up in the morning. Keeps you going through writer’s block, clogged plumbing, rejection letters, and unmade beds. Computer crashes and a raid on your private Hershey’s stash. You write because you can’t not write.

Isn’t that what motivates you to keep at it, deep-down?

What do you think about Hemingway’s quote? What are YOUR reasons for writing?

* A variation on this quote is attributed to sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.

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