Why I Write: In Conversation with George Orwell, Joan Didion, Terry Tempest Williams

Nights are often the times when I feel the minutes of my life ticking by. Sunday nights, for whatever reason, are the worst nights for this dread that comes creeping toward me—perhaps it’s just the fact that I can see much more of my life behind me than ahead; I’m soon to be fifty-eight—and I start to question the days spent and the journey traveled. Tonight, as I try to fall asleep, I explain to myself why I write (with a nod to the writers before me who have done the same) in hopes that such a list will remind me of who I am and maybe even slow time and hold the inevitable end at bay.

I write because my father told stories, and I listened. I write because my mother loved books and taught me to love them, too. I write because I want to live in someone else’s life. I write because everyone’s a mystery, even me, and stories have the power to make us understand. I write because I have to give some shape to the chaos. I write because I fail time and time again, both in my writing and my living. I write because the music of language spoke to me in books and I wanted to make a beautiful noise to answer back. I write because there’s so much I don’t know. I write because I love to be entertained by a well-crafted narrative. I write because once upon a time someone said to me, “Once upon a time.” I write because my fourth-grade teacher told me I had no imagination. I write because rarely in my childhood home did we touch each other with affection. I write because, when I do, I know what it is to love. I write because the end is coming, and I’m whistling in the dark. I write because I want to talk to you; I want to know why you write, or sing, or dance, or paint, or cook, or garden, or play music, or pray. I want to know someone’s listening. I don’t want to be alone. Please tell me.



  1. Rebecca Kuder on July 22, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Beautiful, Lee. Thank you.

    (This is very timely for me, as I’m reading essays for a course this fall that asks students to consider their own reasons for writing, toward shaping reasons into manifestos. Here’s some of why I write: http://rebeccakuder.com/manifesto/)

    • Lee Martin on July 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Shining light into dark corners. Oh, yes, Rebecca. You really speak to me with that line. Thank you so much for posting a link to our blog. I love the connections that start to form when we all start to talk about our reasons for creating. Blessings.

  2. Shirley Hershey Showalter on July 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I love this post. Each sentence sings. I wrote a post about “why” also. I don’t usually share links the first time I comment on a site, but this one seems relevant. I hope you don’t mind.


    I learned about your beautiful memoir Such a Life from Richard Gilbert. I will be teaching it in the fall to an honors class at Eastern Mennonite University. Hope we can connect some way then. Perhaps on Skype?

    • Lee Martin on July 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks so much, Shirley, and thanks, too, for sharing a bit of your own reasons for writing. I particularly appreciated the reminder, via Thoreau, that we often lead lives of quiet desperation. I would be happy to connect with you and your class via skype or otherwise. I know your university since I spent a year in Harrisonburg as a visiting writer at James Madison.

  3. Tina Neyer on July 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Lee, I’ve spent the last several days working pointedly on this project and today, took a break. While driving, with the rain teeming down, the view from my windshield blurred, I felt the fear creep in once more, that fear that I’m not good enough. I turned the windshield wipers to high speed hoping to clear the blur and clear the fear.

    I write because of that underlying fear, the one that my voice may go quiet.

    • Lee Martin on July 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      Tina, thanks so much for sharing that story. I suffer that fear, too. I’ve made a comfortable place for it in my writer’s psyche, and I use it as a motivation. The rain will stop. We’ll both go on.

  4. Bob Dzik on July 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    This is almost embarrassing, it is so selfish, but I write because when I was a freshman at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, Pa, the head of the English department told me she always saved my writings for last; she wrote me the kindest letter about how my stories moved her. When I left for another school in 1976 to pursue business and a major that would help me “make a living,” Dr. Dorothy Kish made me promise to tell my story one day. I’ve been trying to please Dr. Kish these past few years, and, for better or worse, I will never give up because of her. I owe that to her, and myself. Thanks, Lee, for all the other valid reasons we write, and sharing them with us.

    • Lee Martin on July 23, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      Bob, I don’t think that’s selfish at all. In addition to my fourth grade teacher who doubted my powers of imagination, I had other teachers who encouraged me, and I’ve always written to please those who always had faith in me. Thanks for sharing your story, Bob. Here’s to Dorothy Kish and all the others like her who believe in the talents of young writers. Keep doing the good work, my friend.

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