Why write?

Writing for me has always come in fits and starts. There have been times where I’ve taken the time to write for myself, and years where I’ve fallen off the wagon and found myself writing only for work or school. But I keep coming back to it.

This is one of those periods where I’m trying to write more often, so I want to ask myself why this activity is important to me. What does writing do? What are its effects? Do I even like it? And who am I writing for?

The easiest way for me to begin is with the the practical reasons for wanting to write.

Writing takes practice, and I know I’ll only get better if I do it. A clear, persuasive writing style is a useful skill to have in any profession.

Writing makes me feel lucky. I’m privileged and fortunate to live in a place and time where I was taught to write, and where I am permitted to write about almost anything I want.

Writing makes me feel grateful. I’m a daughter of immigrants and I want to make full use of this skill that my parents worked so hard to give me. Even though English is my parents’ third or fourth language (they’re Malaysian-Chinese-Canadian), they had my sister and me speak English at home when we were growing up because my mom didn’t want us to be discriminated against for “being ESL”. (Despite her best efforts, discrimination still happened, but that’s another story.) My mom hoped that we would achieve a fluency and ease with language that she appreciated in others, but didn’t believe she could achieve for herself. For my parents, neither of whom have an undergraduate degree, writing is an important and necessary tool, but not one they feel comfortable with as a hobby. But I know they enjoy stories. Reflecting on and recording some of our exchanges has become important to me, as I get to know my written voice and our histories.

Those are the logical motivations, the easiest ones to list, to explain and accept.

Then there are the felt reasons, the ones that sound silly, but which resonate the most strongly with me. I like to imagine these having a physical affect in the brain or body.

I like the feeling that writing gives me, though I find it’s a cycle of highs and lows, a spectrum. High points come when I’m organizing my thoughts into words for others. There is a sense of expansion, of my brain working to make more room. I like to imagine that little sparks are going off and energy is crackling around in there. It’s a lovely feeling.

These highs inevitably come with some inconvenient lows, when self-consciousness tends to ambush me as I’m verbalizing my private thoughts. The process somehow becomes intensely embarrassing despite there being no one else involved, and everything grinds to a halt. I’m cringing now just thinking of these moments: I’ll reflect on a piece of work and think it’s jumbled, or dull, or both, and my brain just closes up, an anemone rudely poked by someone else’s finger. Did I mention that this judgment happens even though no one else will have seen the work? It’s ridiculous. (And on some days, when the inner critic wins, I’ll give up and become distracted by some other super important task, like opening junk mail or looking at Pinterest. I wonder how many hours I’ve given up to involuntary self-scrutiny.)

But on days when I can get one past that annoying little voice, writing gives me so much comfort.

I can curl up in it, a private retreat. There are no judges in this place. Here, writing feels cozy in the way that an old shirt feels cozy: soft, full of little holes, super unfashionable, but it smells of home, or warm laundry, or maybe a good nap.

Maybe half the work is allowing myself to get to this place, and to enjoy being there, without any guilt or judgment.

A friend asked me, am I writing for anyone?

At first, I thought I’d just be writing for myself (no one cares what I have to say, this is all just for me!) but as I’ve spoken to more friends, especially the women in my life, I think now that I’m writing for them too.

Writing makes me feel like I’m giving a tiny gift. In some way, I think every act of writing is a gesture of giving, however small, because you give a bit of yourself away. It’s unavoidable. And I feel that other people have been so generous with themselves, with their vulnerabilities: I’ve read so many stories that have taught, renewed, energized, and challenged me. I’d like to give that gift to others, if I can.

Here we are, then: To practicing. To feeling lucky and grateful. To being cozy and free of judgment. To giving. To writing, for myself, and for you.