Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why we write

When it was first suggested to me that I publish a blog, the inevitable question that came to mind was why. Why, with the thousands of Internet publications, should I pollute cyberspace with my own ramblings? Why do I write? Why does anyone write? Is it ‘art for art’s sake’? Do we write simply for the virtue of writing? Is there a more materialistic reason? Do we write to supply the demand for reading material or do we write out of a basic human need to write? The answer is an extremely vague, yes.

            The term ‘ars gratia artis’ is not one that I like to use. I’m far too utilitarian. I would rather consider ‘ars gratia sanctimonia’ or ‘art for the sake of virtue’; writing because it is good for the writer to write. We can’t write for the sake of writing because writing can’t benefit ‘writing’ writing can, however, benefit the writer. It behooves the writer to write just as it behooves the shoemaker to make shoes. If the shoemaker doesn’t make shoes then he ceases to be a shoemaker and if the writer doesn’t write he’s not a writer. There is a natural virtue in writing. It serves as a mental exercise, a verbalization and organization of thought. Take, for example, the poems of Emily Dickenson. In her lifetime few of her poems were published. If her relatives had never found and published her poems she would not be any less brilliant. The worst writer is the one who doesn’t write.

            In our non-utopian world writers must hawk their wares like anyone else in order to eat. This doesn’t necessarily debase writing as an art form. Who can say that writing that panders to the masses is any worse than writing that panders to some elite circle of critics? (Certainly not the masses). This is not to say that there is no bad writing. A well-written sleazy detective novel (to borrow a phrase) can be just as good, if not better than, 400 pages of eloquent, post-modernist drivel. I would argue that there is something wrong with that literature which feeds off of the baser human emotions to make a quick buck but there is also something wrong with literature that feeds off of those same emotions in order to be controversial and please the modern ‘art-world’.

            At the root of the desire to write (whether it be to please the writer or the reader) lies the urge to create. Man has it in his capacity to form his thoughts into words, to imagine strange and beautiful people and places, and to communicate that beauty through the beauty of language. To write is to love because to create is to love and to communicate is to love. The fiction writer loves his characters, no matter how flawed and ugly, because the mere act of bringing those characters into existence is an act of love. The non-fiction writer communicates with humanity and, in doing so, loves humanity.

            At that, before I wax too philosophical, I will begin this blog. I do so because a writer has to write, a writer has to eat, and a writer loves to write. Cheesy, I know, but the good news is that the predominant reason for this blog is practice. 


  1. Is this addressed to me?

    I like it


  2. "The worst writer is the one who doesn’t write." Yes, so let him write, but in verse too, I hope.