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July 19, 2009
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Than you to everyone for your suggestions at the end of last week’s petulant whine appeal for ideas. I’ve got an idea for a few different articles based on suggestions, but I thought the first one to address should be something that Rob asked, as it seems to be one of the first things to address – why do we write?

Well, I can’t really speak for anyone else, I can only say why I write, and give thoughts on what I perceive to be the general urge to write.

All life is story and myth. We tell stories about ourselves every day, in gossip, in conversation, in blogs and emails and telephone calls. “You’ll never guess who I met”, “did you hear about Sandy”, “I’m so excited I just have to tell you….”

Our popular entertainment consists almost exclusively of stories. Drama, comedy, horror, fantasy, science fiction, romance on television, DVD, the movies, radio, online (even books!).

Even current affairs and news is a form of storytelling, depending on the point of view you want to put across from supposedly objective events (or in some cases events cut from whole cloth). The news is myth in the making, before passing into the realms of history, myths that are generally accepted.

Religion too comes down to storytelling, an esoteric myth to history’s exoteric myths.

Stories impart essential information, warnings about dangers, and explanations for how things are. Humans are curious, curious about everything, and stories are how we explain things. From reminiscing about our greatest hunts and warnings of the dangers lurking in the dark, to how we came to set foot on the moon, our existence is told and retold through stories.

I think this urge exists within us all, but it appears to be stronger in some than in others. We can all tell a story, but some seem able to take any event and make a tale of it, to reach into their own minds and create realities, universalise emotions and themes, and weave them into a coherent whole that entertains and inspires others.

Society has always had its bards and storytellers, just as it has always had warriors, hunters, priests, scientists and healers. Anyone could be any of these things, but we are drawn to what we have an aptitude for.

I believe that I have an aptitude for storytelling. I have always taken events and wove them into something more, there are vivid images that bubble through my mind, insistent that they need to released, to be told and retold. At times it seems that the ideas are independent of me, that I am the conduit through which they can appear, to be given life through being read by others.

It is an urge that burns away in the mind, sometimes quietly, sometimes violently, and that can only be satisfied through the telling.

I write not simply because I enjoy it, because in truth sometimes it is horrible. Lonely, painful, frustrating (and more of that another day). I write because it drives me, because telling a story is part of who I am, and because I will not be happy until the stories have been told.

I write because I choose to. I write because I have to. I write because the story is part of me, and I am part of the story.

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In the words of the late Jim Henson’s wonderful show The Storyteller, “When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for… The Storyteller.”
  1. July 19, 2009 8:35 pm

    This is a great article, Paul.

    When I was a teenager, I wrote as an escape. I needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else, than where I was. Writing allowed me to invent places where I could be whatever I wanted me to be that day. The stories flowed out of me in so many different forms — poetry, stories, plays… anything. I would write something and when I was done it was the most amazing feeling, whether the story was good or bad. I had told the story of my latest escape. Unfortunately, these were all hand written, single copy things and were all largely destroyed in a basement flood a few years ago.

    As I got older, writing went from being an escape to being a burden. That’s when the stories stopped and the ability to escape disappeared. Burdens from life got in the way because I allowed them to. The few stories I told were awkward and cumbersome and largely were deleted upon their completion. These were dark, frustrating times for me and it got to a point that even when a story wanted to be told, I held it in.

    Recently, over the past four years or so, the storytelling has come back for me. Once again, it is an escape, not the escapes from the oprresiveness of my teenage years but now from the day job, the economy or the news. I write to force me away from the things that weigh on me, to lift me up when I am down. The excited thrill I got as a teenager upon completing a story is back, though dulled a little by the realities of age and the quick re-entry into “the real world” that is required for me these days.

    So, as you said so much more eloquently than I have, Paul, I write because I choose to but also because I have to. It hurts when I don’t or can’t write. Whether I am good or bad at it, whether there’s talent or not, I write because I need to write. It is a part of me.

  2. July 20, 2009 6:57 am

    I wrote initially because I discovered I could and I loved getting lost in words. As a child the ability to be able to control and orchestrate events on the page was also a draw card.

    As I got older I wrote to try and make sense of the world I lived in. I was not a particularly wayward teenager (who knows where I would have strayed had I not been straying on the page) but I lived a lot in my head … and being on the page was somehow in myself and out side of myself at the same time. on the page I was able to live in a fantasy world where I was beautiful, desireable – yet somehow the stories were all dark and twisted in a lot of ways.

    And I wrote and still do write for the thrill of being part of a story as in unfolds. There have been times when I’ve realised I’m holding my breathe as a I write, so caught up in the drama on the page. I remember the dislocation I would feel as a teenager after being hunched over my desk for hours scribbling free hand. It was (and is) a form of escapism – but not of wanting to run away from the world I live in, but wanting to be in a different world … I’m not even sure if that makes sense?

    Now I write because I have to. It is the air I breathe, the creative outlet that keeps me sane. It is the key to my freedom.

  3. July 21, 2009 2:19 pm

    For me, writing is the #1 way I can express myself. I am mildly autistic so have great trouble expressing myself verbally – showing and talking aobut my feelings for example. But when writing, I can express the true me, which people would otherwise never know exists.

  4. July 22, 2009 5:01 am

    I really like how you said the urge exists in all of us. I really disagree with people who claim writers are a special breed, born with a talent.

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