Conundrum Press

To satisfy a basic, fundamental need

February 28th, 2014  |  Published in Blog

by Debbie Vance

Why do writers write? Writing seems, generally speaking, to induce a vast array of psychological complexes, disturbed thinking, emotional breakdowns, feelings of low self-worth, general malaise, and a great deal of frustration, to name just a few side-effects, and yet, we keep writing, bound to the very task which infects our lives. We want to write, but we berate ourselves for our inadequacy, our wasted time, our fruitless efforts, our self-imposed creative mandates. But still, we keep at it. There is something ineffable that draws us back to the notebook, back to the story that will force its way out of us whether or not we wish it to. Why?

There are, of course, myriad explanations for why writers write:

George Orwell attributed it to four universal motivesJoan Didion saw it as access to her own mind. For David Foster Wallace, it was about funMichael Lewis ascribes it to the necessary self-delusions of creativityJoy Williams found in it a gateway from the darkness to the light. For Charles Bukowski, it sprang from the soul like a rocketItalo Calvino found in writing the comfort of belonging to a collective enterprise. For Susan Orlean, it comes from immutable love.

But this one, from Mary Gaitskill’s essay “The Wolf in the Tall Grass,” strikes a particularly resonant chord with me:

1. To satisfy a basic, fundamental need. I think all people have this need. It’s why children like to draw pictures of houses, animals, and Mom; it’s an affirmation of their presence in the corporeal world. You come into life, and life gives you everything your senses can bear: broad currents of animal feeling running alongside the particularity of thought. Sunlight, stars, colors, smells, sounds. Tender things, sweet, temperate things, harsh, freezing, hot, salty things. All the different expressions on people’s faces and in their voices. For years, everything just pours into you, and all you can do is gurgle or scream until finally one day you can sit up and hold your crayon and draw your picture and thus shout back, Yes! I hear! I see! I feel! This is what it’s like! It’s dynamic creation and pure, delighted receptivity happening on the same field, a great call and response.

Yes! This is it! We see, taste, touch, smell, hear things and we want to name them; we want to affirm our presence among them. It is a call and response between the individual human and the greater world, a way of saying this is how see it; this is what it means to me; and this is how I will redeem it.

Now, if only this rationale will continue to resonate through that first, second, third, tenth draft…


If there is one thing I know, it is that writers crave inspiration from other writers. Share your raison d’être with the world! Embolden your fellow writers! Make the world a more creative place!

Tweet your raison d’être @conundrumpress

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