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why they write

September 13, 2012

why they write

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” — James Baldwin

In a recent article published on Flavorwire titled “15 Famous Authors on Why They Write”,
Alison Nastasi takes a thought provoking survey of fifteen celebrated writers’ reflections on what drives/drove them to practice their craft. Among these voices are those of Gustave Flaubert, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Lord Byron and Gloria Steinem (there are additional quotes and contributions in the article’s comments section).

It is striking, if not surprising, that the motives expressed by many of these writers are as distinct and varied as their writerly voices, sometimes distilling with astonishing elegance the essential qualities we often associate with their work. Hemingway, for example, is concerned with being honest, direct, concise; Somerset Maugham speaks of finding solace in writing; Truman Capote speaks of the “inner music” that words make, while Joan Didion speaks of writing as a means exploring her own perceptions, thought processes and quest for meaning.

Then there are those writers who express their motivations in broad terms that are immediately recognizable to anyone engaged in concentrated creative work. Gloria Steinem’s comment that “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else” is an especially clear expression of the uniquely centering effect of creative activity (an effect that could as easily be said of a deep engagement in musical composition, theoretical physics or master carpentry). Steven King speaks of writing as healing, Lord Byron speaks of it as his sole link to sanity and Gustave Flaubert speaks rather mordantly of writing as “...a dog’s life, but the only life worth living”.

There are many other thoughtful and illuminating remarks in this article and I recommend you go read it. And in the spirit of exploring the world of the literary voice, we invite you to join us for tonight’s Westside Connections season launch at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. This year focuses on the collaboration of gifted and celebrated writers (Mark Salzman, Jane Hamilton and Mona Simpson) and our own LACO musicians in a series titled Music & Story. We look forward to seeing you there. Meanwhile, always be reading!

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