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Updated: Mar 18

Why do writers write?

In his most recent film, the excellent documentarian, Erroll Morris [THE THIN BLUE LINE, FOG OF WAR] interviews the great spy master and novelist, John Le Carré. One of the elements that came through most strongly in this fascinating portrayal was how much Le Carré loved the actual act of writing. The sitting down with a blank page of paper and allowing the characters to reveal themselves and take over the story as he listened to their voices. Another film I enjoyed, REBEL IN THE RYE, tells the story of the creation of J.D.Salinger’s CATCHER IN THE RYE. In it, he is asked if he would still love writing if absolutely NO ONE ever read a word of his work. This is after he has exiled himself to New Hampshire, writing every day, but publishing nothing. His answer intrigued me—‘It is the act of writing that is important, not who reads it.’ Another film that explored the world of writing, Ken Burns’s documentary HEMINGWAY, was fascinating as it studied Hemingway’s need to write. Writers are an odd and peculiar collection of ego and insecurity; of inventiveness and blandness; of fear and bravery—often existent simultaneously, making writers a poor bet for either stability or constancy!

What can be so alluring about the act of writing is the ability to ‘disappear’—to completely sublimate your own persona in exchange for a new one; one that you create and control, until of course, this new identity begins to control you. And this new character is nothing more than the man or woman who lives only in your imagination and in the pages of your novel; he/she only lives because of your willfulness and your ability to suspend belief. Great freedom can be achieved in this act of creation and whether the world considers you a great writer or simply a mediocre talent, the thrill of creation always beckons and is rarely diminished by the opinions of others.

So, why do writers write? To hide; to transform themselves; to say aloud on the page what they dare not say in real life; to experience adventures they can only dream about. When a writer sends one of his/her characters on a dangerous expedition, it is not only the eventual reader who feels the effect of such nerve; it is also the creator who experiences the thrill of inventive daring.

I have often found myself learning from the exploits of my characters. Ann Napolitano, best-selling author of DEAR EDWARD and HELLO BEAUTIFUL, talks about writing as an act of discovery; a character walks into a room and says something that the writer did not expect. A writer will often create events without knowing how the characters will get there. I find that characters lead me to where they want to go; I cannot force them. So each day is a revelation for a writer, uncovering clues, carefully listening, and then pursuing the bread crumbs that the characters leave for me.

It’s a thrilling process!


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