Why do you write?
I’ve been giving that question a lot of thought. Of course I’d love to see my name on a book’s spine. Yes, it would be great to stand at a podium and read a passage of mine. A big royalty check would be nice too.
But these aren’t the reasons I write. There’s something much deeper going on: It is a desire to connect with others.
Writing Communicates a Bigger Truth
Writing in various forms has informed me, shaped some of my opinions, and broadened my perspective; I’ve been educated and entertained. Stories have made me laugh, cry, get upset, and angry.
Neil Gaiman in his MasterClass on Writing said something that caught my attention. Storytelling is essentially lying. We make up a tale that requires a suspension of belief in order to communicate a bigger truth.
As a psychologist, I find this process fascinating. Why bother to use this means as a way to connect with others?
Storytelling impacts our neurology differently. Research has found “character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points … and enable better recall of these points weeks later.” It activates both hemispheres of our brain and causes a release of a bonding neurochemical oxytocin. As we connect to the character, we become a member of the universal community.
The role of writing has played in my life
Stories, as books, novellas, and essays, have played a significant role in my life.
When I was a kid, free time was a luxury of the summer months. My mother used to take my sisters and me to the local library for our weekly crop of books. I’d walked out of the building with my arms full. I’d have to peer over the teetering top one to keep from running into something.
Just before our annual vacation, I would check out the library’s maximum number of books. Each year we headed north into Canada’s wilderness, where we would park an RV in some remote location. The nearest store or restaurant would be hours away. Our supply of food and entertainment had to last for the next two weeks.
If my sisters and I were getting along, we might coordinate our book choices to expand the overall selection. They would be sure to pick some titles I liked; I would do the same. That only worked if we were feeling cooperative.
It was a big decision to figure out which book I’d read first. Each story beckoned me. I would read the back cover descriptions several times to see which captured my imagination the most.
Then I pick my favorite — the one I would read first. It couldn’t be right away, though. I had to wait until the vacation officially started. Not until our RV was on the road and headed north was I allowed to crack open the book and sink into the story’s fantastical world.
Stories Often Bridge Gaps
I’ve been drawn to the power of stories for as long as I can remember, and not for their entertainment value.
My home life was odd. At the time, I didn’t know that except to recognize something about us was different. The only way my father communicated was through barked orders or lengthy stories. I usually sat beside him at the dinner table and listened to his tales.
“Dad, remember the time…” I’d begin.
Without missing a beat, my dad would laugh and launch into the detail of one of his wild escapes.
Since the recent diagnosis of autism, I now realize my father was also most likely neurodivergent. Storytelling bridged the gap left by his impaired communication skills. It provided a powerfully emotional way for the two of us to relate to one another.
It has given me a community
But the lack of connection I felt wasn’t just him; I struggled everywhere. Since a young child, I have felt like an outsider.
Writing has helped me to bridge the disconnection I feel with the rest of the world. It gives me a vehicle to say in written word what I often cannot in person.
Through writing, I have been able to share my hopes, dreams, and fears, which, in turn, the reader inhabits. And at the moment we connect in a mysterious, impactful way.
Sharing stories creates a special kind of intimacy. And through my writing, I have discovered a community of people.
Finally, I feel like I belong.
So, yes, money and notoriety are two great motivators, but the biggest reason I write is for interpersonal connection.
So, that brings me back to my initial question: Why do you write?