Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why Do You Write?

Ever since I read David Morrell's fascinating article Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing on Backspace I couldn't get the question out of my head, why does anyone write?

He basically says because writers have unresolved traumas that cause them to write. So I wrote him and asked if there could be writers without traumas. Here's
what he told me in an email:

"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American lives. Applying this to writing, we could say that if a writer creates in relation to a trauma, he or she stops being creative when the trauma is resolved. This has been the case in a number of American writers. But for most of us, the traumas continue. For example, until 1987, I wrote in response to my father's death in WWII and the orphanage I was put in. But after 1987, I wrote in response to my son's death from bone cancer. I never do it deliberately, however. The stories insist."
If you don't know who David Morrell is, he is the award winning author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel that started the Rambo series.

So, I've been trying to determine my trauma, but it eludes me - I've been lucky most of my life - normal childhood, normal straight-arrow adulthood, living the American Dream. The best I could come up with is that I fear loss, but I have not had any major losses. Could there be levels of traumas that affect each of us differently? My losses are nothing compared to his, but could we both be affected the same way and hence have this need to write?

His response:
"The trauma need not be a violent dramatic one in the sense of child abuse or things of that nature. For an author friend, it was the death of his father when he was 8. He often writes about perfect summers of youth that are interrupted. Another author told me that he had a perfect childhood, and then he added, "But I got picked on a lot." He now writes about assassins righting wrongs.
The key questions are:
Why do I want to be a writer? The authentic answer to that is 'Because I need to be.' But why do I NEED to be? What accounts for the obsession?

The answer to that leads you to self-understanding. You said you 'fear loss.' That's an interesting statement and a major theme. You might never know why you fear loss. That's not the point. It's your core emotion and perhaps the reason that you tell stories.

Writers' block is possibly caused by 3 things.
1. The story is just no good, and the subconscious realizes it.
2. The author becomes anal retentive in the first draft and can't move from sentence to sentence.
3. The author doesn't listen to what the story wants to do. Our goal is to serve the story. We must open ourselves and let the story talk to us.

The latter is the best advice I can give to anyone."
Why do you write?

Note: A longer version of his Backspace article is available in his book on writing LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, which will soon be re-released as THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST: A LIFETIME OF LESSONS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING. (From Source Books).

His latest novel, SCAVENGER is now available everywhere.


Desiré Hendricks said...

My friends and I have had this discussion in various ways over the years. Does an artist have to be damage or summer some trauma to produce and be meaningful? On the one hand to say yes makes sense, because trauma is by definition destructive if only by degrees. Art being born out of the impulse to create is the exact opposite, so it should and does prove healing.

I don't quite agree with this argument. What about the adults and children, who have had happy lives, and love to draw, tell stories, dance etc.? In those cases wouldn't this line of reasoning fall away unless you count birth, first fall when learning to walk, the first pangs of hunger.

Or if someone writes love poetry or stories and they are happy in their relationship would this still apply?

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