The other day I was having a conversation with a friend. After some time, he asked me, “By the way, why do you write?” It was not the first time I had been asked that question. In fact, for a long time, I had been thinking of writing down an answer because so many people ask it. But I didn’t know what to write. Why would I? To be honest, it doesn’t make sense to me that people should be interested in why I write; as if what I write were not enough.
Nevertheless, when I got the question from this friend, it reached a critical point. I figured that if I didn’t find and write the answer, I would forever have to demur at the question. And since it is, at its core, such an existential question, demurring isn’t exactly the best way to respond to it. My friend didn’t leave with the answer, but over the past week, I have been wondering what that answer would look like. Here’s what I have come up with.
I write because I can do it better than anything else I can do. Better than I can talk, better than I can run, better than I can ride a bike, better than I can listen to rhumba, better even than I can eat ugali. And everybody knows I am really good at these things, especially eating ugali. Arguably the only thing I can do better than writing is sleeping. But I have a long-running contract with God to sleep only at night, so I have to find something else to do in the hours of light.
I write because there are some things I can only say in writing. Writing offers me turns of phrase I could not normally use in conversation. It makes me wonder; you use words like “staccato” in speech and people will think you are weird, an alien or Italian. Drop them in an article, and they praise you for your erudition. It seems nobody got the memo: English is a means of communication, not a mark of education. Anyway, writing is also better than speech because it offers continuity. No one interrupts you when they are reading your work. They cannot cut you off midway to offer their opinion before they finish knowing yours. It comes in really handy when you have an important point to make. Believe me, there’s power in that.
I write because writing acts as a filter between my brain and the world. It is said an average person gets 10,000 thoughts every day. Well, I am not an average person in this regard. You know that guy who seems to have only two thoughts a day? I think I account for his remaining 9,998 thoughts to balance the average. My brain is a chaotic mess. Ideas flit in and out like locusts from South Sudan. If I didn’t have a means to capture one or two great thoughts among them, I would go mad. I don’t want to go mad. Because writing needs time and time is good for reflection, I find in it the best method to distil my thoughts into succinct summaries.
I write because people are more likely to respect an opinion if it is written than if it is spoken. Yes, I know speaking has a more immediate impact. But the written word? It has permanence, it has seriousness. When something is written, it comes out as important because it took time to construct. And it can be referred to long after it is published. When you write, people are more likely to quote you by saying “According to Mathew…” When you speak, they will say “Mathew said…” I leave it to you to decide which sounds more serious and which more flippant.
I write because many people write. Many of them write amazing things, and I want to be like them. Many others write stuff I disagree with, stuff that makes absolutely no sense, and others that are outright destructive. They seem seriously intent on tearing the world apart with their words. I join the fray and battle them where they are. I pick out paradoxes and contradictions in their arguments and lay them bare for them to see. I criticise, I cajole and I correct. Slowly, word by word, I try to put back together little pockets of the world brought down by their recklessness. I count it as my service to society.
I write because writing inserts me into an ancient tradition of human culture. A tradition put together by the great literary men and women of every generation. A tradition whose members preserved holy teachings in the Bible and the Quran and other holy books to gently guide generations of men to their Creator. A tradition that is bedecked with the jewels of Shakespeare’s drama, Tolstoy’s depth, Chesterton’s paradox, Tolkien’s mythology, Rowling’s magic and Hosseini’s passion. It is a tradition decorated with the poetry of Rumi and Hafez and Khayyam and Milton and Pope. Countless shining stars on a vast canvas of literary achievement. I do not for a moment presume that these annals will one day play host to my name. But the mere fact that I can dust them with my amateur attempts is enough to keep me writing.
I write because I have bills to pay. Every now and then someone will tell me to help them write this article, edit that book, or correct this sentence. And I tell them, “Certainly. But I will exact monetary compensation for my labours.” No, no. I say, “I will charge you for it.” Sometimes they accept to pay; many times, they turn out to be poorer than I am. So, after profusely stating that I don’t do pro-bono work, I remember that this blog is as pro-bono as they come and that the more I write the better I get, and I end up helping the someone out anyway. Please don’t get ideas from this and start sending me things to work on for free. I like getting paid. The ones that pay keep my laptop charged, my stomach full and my nakedness concealed. It’s because of them that I am able to write this blog.
And, finally, I write because I enjoy it. So much, in fact, that even were I not to find all the above reasons, this alone would be sufficient to keep me hammering away at my laptop’s worn keys. Don’t get me wrong. Writing is hard work. Countless hours I have stared at the cursor blinking on an empty document I find impossible to populate with words. It’s frustrating. But then the words come and populate the page; and when that new population enthrals, educates and encourages other people, I find my reward. And I couldn’t give that up for anything.
That’s all. I hope I have answered your questions. Heck, I hope I have answered myself too. But, then again, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the next time someone asks me why I write, I’ll at least have a link to send them to.
Feature Image: bustle.com.
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