But Why?

Why do you write?

Do we ask painters why they paint, or chefs why they cook? We never ask bankers why they count money, but we ask teachers why they teach.

Still, it's mostly writers we probe, and who are probing. Dig, that's a job requirement, then dig deeper.

I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say," says Mary Ruefle in Madness, Rack, and Honey, a collection of lectures on writing. "Then I thought, 'I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say,' but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to."

We write, wonder, and maybe brood. And write some more. We can't stop and we can't start. We seek explanation. Like a stomach ache — food poisoning or flu? — we want to pinpoint a reason. We want to know why we suffer, or celebrate. Why we keep on.

My work is to explain my heart even though I cannot explain my heart. My work is to find the right word even though there is no right word," explains Ayşe Papatya Bucak in An Address to My Fellow Faculty Who Have Asked Me to Speak About My Work.

Bucak tenderly touches the beautiful contradiction that writing yields. In this piece, work is a dressed-up word for write. To provide ballast, we sometimes say work instead of poems or stories. We remind ourselves that writing is not simply hobby, but calling and profession.

Terry Tempest Williams offers a two-page manifesto, Why I Write.  It's striking, clear, and every I write is  a nod and salute to the mystery of how language makes meaning.

Why write? And why do we feel so drawn to the question? Could it be that we are looking for words — our best tools — to explain what we can't? We have the religion but lack the faith. We want to prove our words hold value. But we know, too, that the stomach ache is sometimes heartache, sometimes fatigue. Or just bad milk.

I like Mary Ruefle's approach to writing, and to life: "I would rather wonder than know."