A little while ago somebody asked me what motivates me to write. I’ve thought about that off and on for a long time, so you’d think I’d have a pretty solid answer by now. I don’t. At least, not really. It’s a case where the real answer is somewhat amorphous and changes shape from time to time depending on the circumstances. When I think I have a relatively complete answer, something around me or in me shifts just enough to alter the answer in substantive ways, and I am left with a hole that hasn’t been filled in yet. That said, there are some motivations that I consider enduring. They have remained consistent and applicable throughout my memory, and I expect them to remain so indefinitely.
First, and fundamentally, I write to please myself. This sounds to me quite selfish, but I believe there is probably an element of selfishness at the bottom of almost everything we do of our own free choice. At the end of the day, I find writing generally rewarding as I pull together thoughts and memories to fashion them into something that I hope is coherent and interesting. Telling a story or writing a poem is a lot like building a project where I have a design in mind, select and collect the pieces, shape and fit them together in a manner unique to my intent, and assemble something that I find useful or pleasing as the end result. I get great pleasure in stepping back at the end of a project and seeing a result that I can be somewhat proud of. Whether it’s a physical structure, electronics project, or string of words on a screen or paper, I like to see a finished result that reflects the care and effort I put into it. It’s satisfying in a way that my daily employment isn’t.
Another factor that motivates me when I write is the ability it affords me to organize, analyze, and assess complex issues. I have a wide range of ideas and ideals that are shaped by a vast array of life experiences, but the linkage between those experiences and the beliefs and ideas is often buried and uncertain. When I sit down to write about those kinds of ideas it give me the opportunity to analyze my beliefs and identify many of the underlying factors that they are founded on. When I write, I can more clearly identify the linkages between and lineage of ideas, and can take the time to choose how to show the connections and deeper aspects. I don’t, however, generally write about fundamentally deep ideas and make them widely available. Those writings are more often than not reserved for me alone.
There are times that I write because I can be more precise about a message I mean to communicate. I’ve often heard it said that written language is one of the weakest forms of communication because you lose much of the context surrounding the message. While that is generally true, I don’t believe that is universally the case. Hastily written messages are, in fact, dangerous because they can be very easily misinterpreted. Non-verbal queues, inflection and intonation, and immediate feedback are all lost due to the delay and separation that occurs when we communicate in writing, so a poorly crafted thought can lead to amazing misinterpretations. However, I’ve found that there are a wide range of topics for which verbal communication is much more dangerous than writing.
Contentious topics or complex issues require great thought and deliberate approaches that are easily screwed up when responding to someone in the heat of the moment. Writing on these topics allows me the time and opportunity to analyze the messages being sent, evaluate them against my purpose in communicating, and adjust them appropriately before the intended audience has received the wrong message. Taking time to write out my thoughts also allows me to analyze the concepts, evaluate the supporting arguments, and ensure my position is well founded. Carefully crafted writing, while missing the nonverbal elements of communication, is uniquely well suited for dealing with thorny, contentious, or complicated issues.
Sometimes I write because it is easier for me to put strong emotions or difficult topics into words when they are written. I find certain things very difficult to speak about with a steady voice and a rational mind. I often use poetry, in particular, to touch on these things I can’t really express otherwise. The ability to address these kinds of emotions without directly speaking to them and in a form that can mean something completely different to each new reader has drawn me to poetry, especially when I’m having difficulty communicating in other ways.
The last reason I’ll touch on is probably the most fundamental and enduring one. I write to leave a piece of me behind. Much of what we know about history comes from writings left behind by those who went before. In our modern world, people have shifted to less and less durable forms of communication. By the time my children are having children, much of what I experienced will be lost to modern memory if it isn’t recorded somewhere. The stories of my childhood won’t be there to entertain and educate my children, grand-children, and great grand-children if I don’t write them down. I want my progeny to know who I was so they can understand a little of where they came from.