Posted by: Robin | March 15, 2008

Why Does this Writer Write? Part 1

I think there must be a gene for it. In my literary studies, I often read the biographies of the authors I study. Almost to a person they made up stories and/or imaginary worlds from early childhood, and once they could read they were voracious. For many, at an early point, their natural sense of wonder crashed into an event(s) that caused them to suddenly and frighteningly perceive their world as an unsafe, even dangerous, place. They coped by retreating to secret spaces where they could create a world they could control. One might say this is nurture not nature. Every child imagines. That may be largely true, but not every child transmutes imagination to story and uses story to come to terms with the realities of life. Nor do they continue to do so for a lifetime.

Writers write because they can’t not write. It is how they bring meaning and order to what they see, hear, read, feel and experience. It is self-expression, but not for its own sake. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley articulates what drove her in her 1831 Introduction to Frankenstein:

“As a child I scribbled; and my favorite pastime during the hours given me for recreation, was to ‘write stories.’ Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air–the indulging of waking dreams–the following up of trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings . . . my dreams were all my own. I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed–my dearest pleasure when free.”

Note the “succession of imaginary incidents.” Even dreams had to be ordered by narrative. The repetition of this pattern in the lives of the great writers surprised me, but  personally it was also astonishingly liberating. I was not alone. I was on a well trod road, and I could finally call myself what I had always been–a writer. It is who I am, as natural as breathing. My mind persisted then and persists now in spinning story. I may never be a published author, or certainly an author of their caliber, but I am a writer, “my dearest pleasure when free.”



  1. An interesting outlook on the need to write. I read Frankenstein several years ago and was impressed by the vivid imagery and intensity of the story. I find it interesting that Shelley regards her dreams as another aspect of her writing craft. Many authors create worlds of their own because they enjoy the feeling of having power over a course of events. What is important to remember is that these words have real power to change the world. Mary Shelley practically invented the genre of modern science fiction with this one novel. A person’s ideas are a powerful force in affecting reality.

  2. I’m glad that you can believe in yourself as Writer.

  3. Bill, I hope you read this. I really appreciate your insight. I agree that that the power over a fictional world can be heady, but I have found it can sometimes be as unpredictable as real life. As I’ve grown to care for my characters and their story I also began to feel a great responsibility. Mary Shelley found a character and an idea so resonantly mythic it now stands on its own and morphs with each new telling. It’s nice to come across someone who read the original.

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