Why I write

The Terrible Minds writing challenge this week is to write about why you write.

I think I write to try to make sense of the world. It’s like out one of those Zen desk sandboxes. It’s got lumps, and rocks strewn about, and it looks like hell. Writing is like taking a little rake and smoothing out the lumps, stacking the rocks pleasingly, making patterns that just seem right. I’m seeking some kind of placidness. Which, now that I see that on the page, explains a lot about why I have trouble finishing things — I never feel like I fully understand anything. I could always know more, could always explain it better. And even if I think I’ve got my one tiny sandbox raked fairly well, does it really matter, when there’s a whole world full of messed-up sand out there? It can be paralyzing to think about.

Most of what I write is nonfiction. In my day job, I summarize scientific research for a lay audience. My task there is to reach in, pull out the bits of information most relevant to the reader, synthesize them, and present them in such a way and with enough context that they make sense. I’m pretty good at that. I’m not thrilled about my style (inasmuch as you can really have your own style in this kind of writing), but I’m good at explaining.

My other nonfiction can be broken into roughly two categories: noodling around, trying to understand something (like this post), or persuasive writing. Which is really just me noodling around trying to understand something, then trying to get it to make sense to somebody else the same way it does to me.

When I write fanfic, it’s usually because there’s a piece of the canon that just doesn’t sit right with me. The characters aren’t acting the way I would expect them to act. The plot is riddled with holes (of the sort that even I, someone who doesn’t primarily read/watch for plot, can’t ignore). The narrative sets up a development that it never pays off. So I write a story around it until it makes sense to me.

Original fiction doesn’t fit into this paradigm terribly well, which may have something to do with why I haven’t written much of it. Fiction seems like it’s the province of the chaos muppet — create more conflict, more problems! Your protagonist needs those sweet, sweet obstacles to overcome! I have to mess up my little sandbox, which really doesn’t come naturally to me. I know you have to mess things up to make something new, but I don’t wanna. But maybe it will help to at least know why it’s so hard. Maybe I can come up with some way to fool my brain into making a mess so I can clean it up.

That’s weird, isn’t it?

I write because the world is confusing. I want to take the chaos, create some structure and order and meaning in my head, and then put that back out into the world to make it make a little more sense. This whole model may be totally wrong or arrogant, but it’s why I write.

God, I never really asked myself this question before and it makes SO MUCH SENSE. (Which is exactly what the theory would predict, now isn’t it? I’m good.)

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