By Rohini Gupta
A previous version of this post appeared on Rohini’s blog.
A friend asked a question: Why do you write?
I thought about it and I had no answer. Why do I write? I have been writing all my life—but why?
It’s rarely easy. Writing itself is an effort of will, usually a balancing act, caught in the cracks between work and family commitments. You must take whatever moments you can, steal time to write, cutting out other pleasures in a desperate and sometimes secret attempt to squeeze a little more writing time from an almost empty tube.
You might drift into many professions because it just happened that the opportunity presented itself but not this one. Writing is a treadmill—if you are not running desperately in place to keep up you will get thrown right off it.
Money is not the reason either. It is not a profession which leads quickly to an obese bank account. Sometimes, as in poetry, it leads to no bank account at all. Poetry is notorious for it—poetry and money just don’t live in the same town.
Does that ever stop poets from writing? Of course not.
So what is it? Success?
Very few writers achieve success. In the days of traditional publishing, many writers never got published. In today’s age of self-publishing you can self-publish and then just disappear in the flood of other books.
A handful achieve fame and fortune. But that has never stopped anyone from writing.
So what is it? What keeps you going, year after year, alone, doubting yourself, struggling with the knives and daggers of rejection, wounded over and over and yet picking yourself up from the gutter again and again, reinventing yourself when all doors seem to be shut, losing yourself in another story while the old ones moulder unread.
It’s a minor miracle that anyone lasts in this field—but some do.
You grow two skins. One is tender, soft and sweet, with the poet’s fingertip sensitivity and the openness to the flow of words.
The other is tougher than rhinoceros hide—you need that when the rejections begin. Make no mistake, you will always need the rhinoceros hide—even success cannot insulate you.
So why go through all that and write?
You do not write for the externals, for the gains. It is something internal. The act of writing itself.
You don’t write for readers. Your readers are usually your writing friends and writing group members. Will you have millions of fans one day? You can hope but you cannot be sure. Even successful writers are not sure.
All books are not equal, even by the same writer. Writers say that a book from which they expected great success flopped and another, written in a spare thoughtless moment, somehow caught the reader’s imagination. Readers may love you or ignore you, but will that stop you writing?
So why do you write?
You write to write.
Something magical happens when you write and especially when you write poetry or fiction. You connect to the creative part of you, what you might call the Muse.
It opens a universe. It takes you out of yourself. It fills you with magic quite unknown in this prosaic, unimaginative world. For that magnificence what will you not do? Everything else is dwarfed by those starry moments.
So perhaps, that is the answer to why you write.
You write for companionship—your own.
You write to meet yourself at the deepest and most profound level. The ancients called it ‘yoga’—union with yourself.
You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable.
You write to survive and you write to become.
Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.
Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book.