Why We Write

AJ Weiss
4 min readJun 1, 2021


For when you can’t imagine why you go to the trouble. Here’s my reasons, along with some other (more notable) authors’ reasons for writing.

Photo by Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

Writing as a Way to Make Sense of the Chaos

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O’Connor

With writing, I can exist differently. By differently, I mean that I can exist in a more linear fashion. In a way that makes more sense. With writing, I can take all the chaos around me and distill it into a sentence or a paragraph. Or if I’m feeling especially inspired, I can distill it into 600 pages. There’s progression, there’s synopsis, there’s timeline.

Writing is a synopsis of your life, the best parts and the worst parts. They both have value on the page. In fact, the bad parts tend to be the most interesting.

No one wants to read about a perfectly balanced character, who goes about her perfect business with her perfect lover in her perfect house. It’s boring, it’s unrealistic, it’s trash. Even Harlequin romance novels or Lifetime movies have more substance than that. There’s hardship, heartbreak, maybe even a terminal illness, all of which melds nicely into the next reason.

Writing as a Release of Your True Self

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“Writing eases my suffering . . . writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.” — Gao Xingjian

On the page, the worst parts of myself make for a good story. They no longer need to be hushed, oppressed, or misrepresented. My bad self — A character I write, who does bad things and has bad things done to her — That self is gold. But that same imperfect character can still have her readers rooting for her when she gets a better life.

That bad character can be made good, yet be appreciated for both her good and her bad. Her ‘good’ couldn’t exist without her ‘bad’– After all, it’s what made her become good. More importantly, her story wouldn’t exist without the bad because no one would want to read it.

In real life, people don’t admire my bad qualities. They don’t want to see my asymmetrical face or witness the unexpected rage I have over certain things.

In a real day, I can only show my good side. My sucked-in stomach, my legible handwriting. I don’t want to show the world my bony chicken-like legs or my real journal that shows how bad my handwriting really is and how vicious my thoughts really get.

But once those vicious thoughts are on page, they turn into something else. Points of interest on a landscape of tree-pulp. My horrid thoughts are no longer horrid on paper. It’s a character study, the character of which is beautifully flawed. It belongs to a third-party, though I can still claim the rights to it. It’s material for voyeurs. It’s a confession tape.

Sometimes, the Reasons Don’t Even Matter

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“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.” — Octavia E. Butler

There’s times when I need to remind myself why I write. In fact, the first page of my Word doc — the document where I keep all the unfinished drafts of my writing projects — is dedicated to reminding myself of all the reasons. Reminders for when I feel defeated, tired, or just cranky.

On this page, I have written motivating nonsense such as: “I want to create content that I would want to read, that reads like Odesza sounds,” and other little statements like “Feelings are transient, but my intentions remain strong.”

If nothing else, I write because there’s no other pursuit I feel drawn to as worthy of my time.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” — Gloria Steinem

But, there are times when I honestly don’t even know why I write. Sometimes I don’t even care about the why. Right now, for example, I’m questioning why I would even write an article such as this. But then why not?

And sometimes, writing is just painful. A trudge. An indecent exposure of my mind.

Writing is a bit like what I imagine having children would be like. Overall an interesting and rewarding experience, but very exhausting, and sometimes just a pain in the butt.

For those times, I think it’s beneficial to take a break from over-analyzing the crap out of the “why” behind what we do, as hard as that is for the classic over-thinker to do.

For those times, reading a brilliantly snide quote can be helpful to not take things so seriously:

“I don’t know why I started writing. I don’t know why anybody does it. Maybe they’re bored, or failures at something else.” — Cormac McCarthy

My tagline, as poetically half-baked as it might sound (“I implode daily but writing saves me”) is nonetheless very accurate. Amid all these other reasons to write, it actually boils down to something quite simple. I do it because it saves me from a metaphorical implosion, as something I need to do in order to live this human life.