Why do I write?


Meet my 10 year old self, humbly self titled the traveling poet.

I found this page yesterday when, in a rare and unplanned fit of tidiness, I cleaned and organized my book shelves and the underbelly of my reading chair. There’s no cue for nostalgia like finding the play program from your senior year, a mixtape from your teenage crush, and 31 journals. No. You didn’t read that wrong. And yes. I’ve written in all of them.

I’m the only person in my immediate family who hasn’t published a book. Sometimes people have asked me: is writing just a Clarkson thing? And in one sense I would have to say yes. We are word people. My parents raised us on books and dinner time discussions on light subjects like moral reasoning, theology, current events, and Lord of the Rings. We are, as a clan, compulsive communicators. So perhaps I was born to it.

I think it is more than that. I have always felt writing to be a part of me, something I couldn't get rid of, and didn't want to. For 15 years now I have scrawled away in loopy handwriting things that no one will probably ever see, and yet I feel compelled to write. I think other people feel this way, or perhaps they feel the same with creating, or computing, or caretaking. We all have a something. This need has sparked the question: Why do I write?

Here are my brief and limited answers.

Because I am a writer. 

I've noticed that in many of my young journals, as in the entry above, I identified myself as a writer or a poet. One brave entry even says "Dear diary, as I have said before: I am a writer and a poet." Look back as an adult, I find it interesting that I didn't say "I love writing" or "writing is my favorite activity" I said "I am a writer." It wasn't and never has been an activity, but an identity. It's woven into the fabric of being Joy. It's that habit I return to no matter what stage of life I'm in. This is not to say I'm always a very good writer, but a writer I always am. 

Because people.

My sister says that when I was in my elementary yeas, she would pick me up from class and I would fill the entire homeward drive with descriptions of my classmates. I have this abiding fascination, amusement, and reverence for humans. Part of the reason I write is simply because I want to capture people, their passions and afflictions, their sultry eyes and bulging noses, their sins and glories, so they can be seen and dwelt upon. I feel I can add some dignity and provide some clarity through preserving people on pages with carefully chosen words.

Because it’s how I make sense of my world.

Many chapters of my life have been closed with a journal entry. Writing has always allowed me perceive and record the string of meaning woven between the disparate events of my life; it allows me a sense of resolve. When I can put down my anger in an unapologetic 12 point Times New Roman font, it loses some of its power over me. When I scrawl the loveliness of the 9th of May on the left side of my journal, it can remain with me upon re-reading. When I release the numbness of a real pain in the safe structure of a poem, I can cry. When I write an entry of the time God provided when I thought there was no way out, I have it always as a memorial of God’s goodness. Writing allows me to bring order to my world through interpretation.

Because I love language.

Lovely. Bombastic. Ooze. Flippant. Ferocious. Tender. Unflappable. There are so many wonderful words in the world. I love to write because of the sheer delight of turning a good phrase. I love the way words dance to the rhythm you set. I love the way words can paint pictures with feelings. I love that words can have two meanings all at the same time. Language is the most human of nouns. I love language as an end in itself.

Because the world is meaningful.

At the heart of it, I write because I believe there is something worth writing about. I remember in my freshman Communication Theories class discussing the nature of meaning: does it lie in the communicator? or the words? or in the interplay between the two? I remember strolling back to my dorm, and having the sudden realization: there is such a thing as meaning. Pulsing, streaming, throbbing at the heart of all things, there is something we all wish to get at. So we speak, we compose music, we paint pictures, we tell stories, we bake pies, with a thrilling ache... do you know what I mean? Do I? We humans have a hard time saying something is what it is. We want it to mean something. It isn’t just a rose. It is romantic, lovely, passionate, sad. For all time, we as a race have danced around in a frantic frenzy to get our hands on meaning. And this is why I write. When I write, I feel not that I have made a nice story or essay up, but that I have chiseled some waiting figure out of marble. It was there all along, but I participated in the great delight of helping it come out in the open; the delight of finding the meaning that beats at the heart of the universe.

So these are some of the reasons I write. How about you?