More than a month or two ago, poet, librarian and mountain climber James Wagner asked writers (poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers) to answer the question “Why do you write?” for his tumblr, Mobile. I was one of them, but I’ve avoided answering the question for, well, one or two months now. I hate answering questions like that. But I will, because it’s been nagging at me ever since he posed it (thanks, James). First, though, I’ll turn to other writers’ answers to the question, already posted on Mobile. These are just excerpts—for the full answers, and for more treats, like video of the incomparable Steve Timm reading, Wagner’s smart analysis of Patricia Highsmith’s body of work, or the transcription of a funny conversation overheard in London on the day of Thatcher’s funeral, visit Wagner’s site here.

So: Why Do You Write?

Juliana Spahr says, “Because I can’t stop thinking about something.”

George Saunders who, above all, finds writing “deeply enjoyable” says: “writing is a way of getting some power in the world, and a way of connecting with other people; it lets me sort of leave behind a record of how beautiful I’ve found this life; helps me make sense of things through the construction of fictive simulacra.”

Nada Gordon first answers, “I don’t know,” but then she goes on to say: “Largely, I write to satisfy the demands of rhythm. It flops about inside me, teases, bumps around, annoys, and I have to purge it and get it out. It wants to be form. It wants to be form as sound and also as meaning, but hardly ever does it want to be meaning first and hen sound. I mean then sound. (It is sometimes like a hen sound.)”

Stephen Dixon says: “I ask myself that all the time. Before I write. After I write. In my sleep. When I wake up. But never, it seems, while I write. Then I just write. It’s a question that remains a question. I never answer it or even try to. It can only hurt my writing. And if I didn’t write, what would I do? That’s not an answer.”

Anne Boyer says: “I write because my whole life there have been people and forces, like some men and mortality, who have tried to keep me from writing, and fuck them.”

Lynne Tillman says: “I suppose I keep on writing because I’m curious, wondering what I can pull off next, I’m driven to excite my mind and fill my time, and also because, when I write, I’m still entirely absorbed in it, the process. Hours pass, but I have no sense of time. I’m figuring out a sentence or finding a better verb. I’m playing with syntax, really playing. It’s a great puzzle, and solving it is a thrill. I’m making sense of a character’s nonsense. I’m laughing at my own jokes. I’m doing what I want to do. I’m as free as I’ll ever be.”

kathryn l. pringle says: “i write because i am suspicious of words—often other people’s words, but also my own. i write to try on ideas and place myself. i write because i’m not so good at speaking. i write because i like to spend the kind of time with ideas that just thinking won’t allow. i like construction. i write because i see things a certain way and want to tell you how i’m seeing things so i feel a little less alone.”

Paul Maliszewski says: “I write because I like to hear what my wife thinks of what I’ve written. I like to write something and then, later, hear her reading it in the other room. Sometimes she lies down in bed and reads. Sometimes she sits at my computer, and I get up and go lie down. I pick up a book or a magazine, but I’m really just listening to her read. I listen to her page through the document. I wonder how far she is, if she is at some particular point. In my mind I hear bits and pieces of what I’ve written, phrases, parts of sentences. I like to hear her laugh while she’s reading. I always want to know what’s made her laugh.”

And Julian Talamantez Brolaski says: “I write to save my ass!”

In Part Two, I’ll (finally) attempt to answer the question myself, though I’m sure I’ll find myself wishing I could have written any of the above answers instead.

Originally Published: April 26th, 2013

Laura Sims is the author of three books of poems: My god is this a man (2014),  Stranger (2009) and Practice, Restraint (winner of the 2005 Alberta Prize), all from Fence Books. She received a Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship from the Japan-United States Friendship Commission in 2006, and has been a co-editor of Instance Press since...