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Why We Write

I am a creative writing major. At a school like Carnegie Mellon, saying that out loud can be daunting when I’m surrounded by engineers and computer scientists. I’ve spent the past few months watching my friends accept jobs at the likes of Microsoft, Samsung, and Amazon with salaries higher than I could ever hope to achieve. I’ve had people give me weird looks when I tell them my major — everything from disdain to confusion. But I will never regret my decision to major in creative writing, and it all boils down to one simple statement: I am a writer.

Books were my first love. I spent my childhood reading everything I could get my hands on. Many people look to literature as an escape, a way to transport themselves somewhere else for a while. Some writers see writing in a very similar way. I started writing for the same reason I started reading: to exist somewhere else. Writing was a way for me to make my own reality. My imagination ran rampant, and I started writing stories about fantastical lands as soon as I could hold a pencil. And I never stopped. My love of literature is common among writers: It’s often what drives us to try our own hand at writing. We want to recreate the experience and emotion we have while reading. We want to write stories that change your life and poems that feel like a punch in the stomach. We want to make our readers feel the same way we did.

I wrote my first poem when I was about seven. I suffered from moderate insomnia as a child, and on one sleepless night, my tiny hands found a pen and a notebook. I wrote a poem about love being the sun, and then I was able to sleep. To anyone else, it might seem strange that a seven-year-old felt compelled to write poetry in the middle of the night. To a writer, it’s all we know. Writers have words that churn inside of them, stories and poems that swirl in our heads until we write them down. We have characters that live inside our heads, demanding that their stories be told. We have words constantly stringing themselves together into verse. The only way to silence the noise is to put it on paper.

My drive to write became more complex as I got older. In high school, it was my coping mechanism, my way of working through problems. I went through a lot of emotional turmoil and personal issues as a teenager, and I found myself turning back to writing as an outlet. I started writing more poetry in addition to my usual stories, parsing out my feelings in verse. And it felt good. Putting things into speech has never been my forte, but on paper, I have the time and the vocabulary to really explain myself. I started writing poetry for myself, but then it became a way for me to explain complicated emotions to other people. Figuring out my emotions, putting them into words, making something beautiful from that turmoil provides a sort of catharsis that I cannot achieve any other way.

I recently came across an alarmingly accurate Venn Diagram about writing — two circles with the words “narcissism” and “self-loathing,” and the overlapping circle has “writers” in it. Being a writer is a constant war within yourself: part of you thinks you’re talented, that people will want to read your work, and the other part hates everything you’ve ever written. The dominant part of you is ever-changing, so it’s easy to go from, “This is the best thing I’ve ever written!” to “Oh god this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” in a matter of minutes. Often, we think we’re just talented enough to pursue our art, but our self-loathing motivates us to constantly improve our skills. It’s emotionally taxing — I’ve had my fair share of existential crises over my writing — but ultimately, it’s this very dichotomy that keeps us writing and helps us improve.

Writing should not be romanticized or trivialized — it is hard work, and should be treated as such. For as many lines that we write from bursts of inspiration, there are just as many (if not more) that we must agonize over. For every hour we spend writing, we spend three more editing. For every acceptance letter we receive, we will receive at least dozen rejections. But in that moment when we find the perfect word, when a reader responds just how we hoped they would, or we finally get that acceptance letter, that’s when it’s all worth it.

I still can’t sleep at night: The words comes unbidden, lines of poems burning themselves against the inside of my eyelids. My mind is constantly looking for poetry in other people’s conversations, in television shows, in the jumble of my thoughts. I don’t know how to be any other way. Art is hard; there is no denying that. We are constantly surrounding by writing, constantly wondering how we could ever be as good as Hemingway or Plath or Shakespeare. And yet we keep writing, keep chasing that wild dream that one day, we will achieve that level of talent or recognition. Everyone always asks why we write, and to that I say it’s as simple and as complicated as this: It is who we are.

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