20 Writers on Why They Write

During the 2013 New Yorker Festival, the acclaimed dystopian author George Saunders sat down with fiction editor Deborah Treisman to talk about how a geophysical engineer became a New York Times bestselling author. It got us thinking: With so many authors declaring how writing is a long and painful process, why do writers put down pen to paper in the first place? Filled with passion, honesty, and artistic neuroses, we’ve gathered some of our favorite why-they-write declarations.

Image: Jrmyst/Flickr

by Heba Hasan

Toni Morrison

“So what makes me feel as though I belong here out in this world is not the teacher, not the mother, not the lover, but what goes on in my mind when I am writing. Then I belong here and then all of the things that are disparate and irreconcilable can be useful. I can do the traditional things that writers always say they do, which is to make order out of chaos. Even if you are reproducing the disorder, you are sovereign at that point. Struggling through the work is extremely important — more important to me than publishing it.”

via The Paris Review

Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Joan Didion

“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. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?”

via “Why I Write”

Jemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Jennifer Egan

“When I’m writing… I’m living in two different dimensions: this life I’m living now… and this completely other world I’m inhabiting that no one else knows about.”

via Why We Write

Ben Gabbe/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Anne Rice

“Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

ZZ Packer

“I think when we engage in language we are engaging in something that is specifically and primally human.”

via NPR

George Orwell

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane.”

via Why I Write/Image: Wikimedia Commons

Gloria Steinem

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

Mike Coppola/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Joyce Carol Oates

“To me, who has written for most of her adult life, in a number of genres and with wildly varying degrees of ‘enjoyment’ and/or ‘misery,’ it’s likely that writing is a conscious variant of a deep-motivated unconscious activity, like dreaming. Why do we dream? No one seems to really know, just as no one seems to really know why we crave stories, even or especially stories we know to be fiction. My experience of writing — of writing these very sentences, for instance — is invariably a blend of the initially ‘inspired’ and the more exacting, or plodding, execution of inspiration.”

via The Guardian

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Isabel Allende

“Every story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.”

via Why We Write/Image: Lori Barra

Ray Bradbury

“Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…’, you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.”

via The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea

Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Judy Blume

“Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being.”


Evan Agostini/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Sara Gruen

“The only thing that makes me crazier than writing is not writing.”

via Why We Write

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Joy Williams

“Why does the writer write? The writer writes to serve — hopelessly he writes in the hope that he might serve — not himself and not others, but that great cold elemental grace which knows us.

A writer I very much admire is Don DeLillo. At an awards ceremony for him at the Folger Library several years ago, I said that he was like a great shark moving hidden in our midst, beneath the din and wreck of the moment, at apocalyptic ease in the very elements of our psyche and times that are most troublesome to us, that we most fear.

Why do I write? Because I wanna be a great shark too. Another shark. A different shark, in a different part of the ocean. The ocean is vast.”

via Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction/Image: Random House

Flannery O'Connor

“I write to discover what I know.”


“Because I’m good at it.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Don DeLillo

“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.”

via Don DeLillo on Writing

Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Mary Karr

“I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world. Also, I have a need for money.”

via Why We Write

Truman Capote

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Shirley Jackson

“I can’t persuade myself that writing is honest work. It’s great fun and I love it. For one thing, it’s the only way I can get to sit down. And there is pleasure in seeing a story grow. It’s so deeply satisfying — like having a winning streak at poker.”

via The New York Times

Lorrie Moore

“There was the usual dreaminess, I suppose. Also a shyness that caused me — and others — to notice that I could express myself better by writing than by speaking. This is typical of many writers, I think. What is a drawback in childhood is an asset to a literary life. Not being fluent on one’s feet sends one to the page and a habit is born. In addition to the predictable love of books, I was also quite captivated by the theater when I was a child—as much as I could be, given where I was growing up, a tiny town in the Adirondack foothills… Looking back I now suspect that bit of early theatergoing is still at the heart of what I think is interesting and powerful narratively. I suspect that love of theater — and that condition, however thrilling, of forever being in the audience — is part of the pulse of everything I’ve written.”

via The Paris Review/Image: Lindy Nylind