Famous authors on why they write

Every now and then, I ask myself why I write. I mean, it’s such a strange thing–creating these all-consuming alternate realities and fretting about them for months on end. It calms me to see how other writers describe their need to write. I’ve collected some favorite quotes here:

Joan Didion, author of "Play It as It Lays", and "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", is pictured here on May 1, 1977.(AP Photo)

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
—Joan Didion

“Writing is my way of expressing – and thereby eliminating – all the various ways we can be wrong-headed.”
—Zadie Smith

“I write to find out how much I know… The act of writing for me is a concentrated form of thought. If I don’t enter that particular level of concentration, the chances are that certain ideas never reach any level of fruition.”
—Don DeLillo

“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.”
—Neil Gaiman

They asked 100 published authors why they write. Click the photo for details. I'm in the "have to" category.
They asked 100 published authors why they write. Click the photo for details. I’m in the “have to” category.

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
—Lord Byron

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
—Gloria Steinem

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
—Enid Bagnold

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
—William Carlos Williams

“Writing is its own reward.”
—Henry Miller

sylvia plath
“I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living.”
—Sylvia Plath

“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s something to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about.”
—Nicole Krauss

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
—Flannery O’Connor

“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”
—Harper Lee

“That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. You can’t control life, at least you can control your version.”
—Chuck Palahniuk

Why do I write? The easy answer is, “Because I have to.” For me, it’s like sleeping or eating, a part of basic existence. But why does it have that importance? I think it’s because writing is my way to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop, so to speak. It’s my way of understanding myself and others. By containing stories on pages, I feel a tiny bit of control over the chaos of life. It’s like compartmentalizing at its finest.

Why do you write? Or, if you’re a reader, why do you read? 

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