Why Do You Write? Seven Reasons

It was good to receive the holiday Poets & Writers “Inspiration Issue,” which includes inspiring interviews with seven established poets, none of whom look anything like me (instead, I sadly look like the Powers-That-Be I loathe in Washington Swamp. C., making me feel like an Ugly Duckling on the Good Pond Poetry, one who can only evolve in one way—talent).

Although there are many cool questions with cooler-still answers in these interviews, I’ll give you a sampling by sharing responses to the eternal question: “Why do you write?”

Sally Wen Mao: “I write in order to live; to be sane in this world; to expand my own ideas of what’s possible; for the girl inside me who did not believe she was valuable; for the woman inside me who trivializes her own pain; for all the living people, especially women of color, who feel the same way; to rail against silence and erasure; to center my own narrative; to recover history; to imagine a future; to record and witness the present; to tell the truth.”

Editor’s Note: This reminds me of essay tests I took in U.S. History senior year. When I wasn’t quite sure which answer was best, I put some semicolons to work and gave them all! Still, I’m pretty sure Sally’s answer speaks for many in today’s swampy climate (allusion to Washington Swamp C. and its head crocodile here).

Hanif Abdurraqib: (Hanif did not answer this specific question, so I’ll share his answer to “Who do you turn to when you feel like you’re losing faith?“): “I’m finding faith in writers who at least attempt to engage with a complicated honesty. I’m into writers who ask and answer with confidence, fully understanding that none of us really know shit.”

Editor’s Note: I love that answer, because Hanif fully understands what none of us fully understands. That can’t be said of some of the self-important writers out there, now can it?

Morgan Parker: “To explain myself.”

Editor’s Note: Boy, would E. B. White and his teacher, Mr. Strunk, love this succinct answer! Well done, Morgan!

Esmé Weijun Wang: “It’s the best way I’ve found to interpret the bewildering world.”

Editor’s Note: “Second place in the succinct sweepstakes!”

Ross Gay: “I write because I have questions; because I love books; I love the human voice; others have been so kind as to have written things I have been moved by and feel compelled to talk with; I like to talk with; I like to move; it is so fun; semicolons; the mysteries.”

Editor’s Note: Ross appears to be in on Semicolon Humor (it was once an ice cream franchise, no?). He’s also in on something I read about somewhere, but forget where: All writing is a dialogue with all writings that came before it. It’s as if we’re all at a big table with the masters, jockeying for seats near our favorites (I’m between Twain and Tolstoy), politely saying, “Pass the Plato of potatoes, please.”

Yiyun Li: “I would feel awfully lonely if I stopped.”

Editor’s Note: This sentiment makes sense when you receive occasional acceptances in your inbox. For the forever-rejected writers, however, their loneliness lives on, even as they continue to write. (As Head Swamp Crocodile once tweeted: “Sad!”)

Chigozie Obioma: “I write to redeem myself from the intrinsic pain that comes from trying to unravel the mystery of existence and, by doing so, to help others unpack theirs.”

Editor’s Note: I never considered that the mysteries of existence might be something in my Samsonite between socks and underwear, but it’s a rather cool image! Be careful with that luggage, kind sir!

And so, gentle reader, in seven semicolons or less, why do you write?

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