[I’ve decided to take a 30 day break from writing poetry and write essays instead. It probably will become evident why I write poetry, but, there it is. – Owen]
Why do we write?
The most common answer is some form of “writers write, because that’s what they do”. This answer avoids the question, of course, but does it in service of an important reason: namely, that time spent worrying about the purpose of our writing takes away from time spent actually writing.
“Writers write” contains the kernel of another important truth, however: namely, that the creative impulse has no real ground, and we who have it are going to have it regardless of whether we ever have an audience or not. “Writers write” in the same way children play, birds sing, and rain falls.
Unless there is some activity in life that we do for its own reason, there is no purpose in ever doing anything. Most of us remember a time in our lives where we played, laughed, loved, and created for no reason but the sheer joy of doing so, and when we were not primarily focused on measures of social success. Don’t get me wrong: the joy of sharing can be a big part of why we write, but there is a difference in sharing with people we know, and counting up buys or likes from people we don’t know — a huge difference, and one we too-often conflate.
The difference might be described as that between the writer’s instinct, and the performer’s instinct: the former’s joy is mostly in the act of creation; the latter’s is primarily in the reaction they garner. Almost all of us have some admixture of both, but where we lie on the spectrum can make a big difference. In a way, the difference is very close to that between introverts and extroverts, in terms of where their energy is derived, from within or without.
Other answers to the original question are valid: we may write to earn a living, or to entertain, or to inform, or to persuade, i.e., in an attempt to effect changes in behavior we think are important. I usually write poetry (I’m taking 30 days to write prose as an exercise, of which this is day 1) and I do so because I have thoughts I want to turn into music, and poetry is the most direct way.
For many writers, joy is within reach so long as we do not place the judgments of others between us and our writing. It’s really that simple.
Critics may fairly be viewed as parasites that feed off of the host organism. We all (as readers) can, through blogs, go straight to the source, and not get our views of people filtered through third parties — which is something like a miracle, when you consider how most news works in the current age. I can read what YOU think, how YOU feel, what YOUR dreams are — something I can’t really ever get from anyone but you.
That’s right, you.
So another possible answer as to “why we write” is that nobody else can do it for us.