A Passion of the Soul: What Makes Writers Write?

Being a novel writer can sometimes be lonely as it requires long, isolated stretches of time focused on creating a whole, imaginary world. Yet try and socialise with a writer in the midst of this process – unless they want to procrastinate – and you’re likely to be rebuffed. That’s because novelists are like a calm sea; often placid and quiet on the surface, with raging currents underneath. We need a way to deal with everything that’s going through our minds, and when we have dived deep beneath the surface, it could be some time before we want to communicate with the surface world.

But what drives writers to mine their mental seabed for treasure? The pull towards the written word often starts in childhood. I’ve lost count of the number of interviews I’ve read where the author in question confesses spending most nights under the bedcover with a torch so they could finish reading the latest book or drifting off into elaborate daydreams in school. For me, I have early memories of tapping away on my grandparents’ computer, fascinated by the nonsense words I was creating on the screen. I was – and still am – a chronic daydreamer. I have vivid memories of imagining I had magic powers at four years old. As I grew older, I loved making little books out of wads of paper and always enjoyed reading. Looking back, it was obvious what I was destined to become. These days, I’m never happier than when I’m deep into writing a scene.

But where does this drive come from? Writers come from all backgrounds but put them in a room together and as soon as someone waxes lyrical on the reasons they started putting pen to paper, there’ll soon be a sea of nodding heads. Does any of this feel familiar to you?:

  • You feel a gaping gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
  • You feel the drive to create beautiful things and organise chaos.
  • You have deep emotions and strong empathy towards other people.
  • There’s so much going on in your head, you must let it out.
  • There’s a fundamental truth to be found in life’s myriad experiences.
  • You struggle to come to terms with the darkness and suffering in the world.
  • The simple things in life strike you with awe and wonder.
  • You think very deeply about a variety of issues and the human condition.
  • You struggle to organise your thoughts until they are down on paper (or a screen).

I could go on. But chances are, if you’re a committed writer, you’ll recognise yourself in that list. And that is why the community of writers is such a great one. Last year I was lucky enough to attend the oldest writing summer school in England, and the sense of belonging and mutual understanding was probably the most beneficial part of the experience. I personally believe that writers are usually pretty good people, largely because they spend so much time thinking about the lives of others, fictional or otherwise. It’s a bit like mental travelling; there’s nothing like experiencing someone else’s life to create a bond of empathy and broaden your perspective.

To a self-identifying writer, it seems obvious why we love what we do. It’s not always so clear to everyone else around us. Notice in the list above that making loads of money is not usually the primary motivation (though it is possible). That is at odds with what society tells us we should focus on, so it’s no wonder that some of our loved ones may not be that supportive. The worry about whether one will ever be a successful author is often the main reason that writers procrastinate and put off working on their passion. Which is a terrible shame; one does not need to find the pot of gold to delight in a rainbow.

A dear friend of mine, a fellow writer, said something that struck a chord with me. I was complaining to him that I felt I had to justify spending time and money on an MA in Creative Writing, even though I knew it was the right thing to do now. He was sympathetic and asked me to imagine a gallery full of different types of artists: writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, wood crafters, poets etc.

‘Do you think that because they are all artists that they will value everyone else’s work as much as their own?’

I said it was unlikely because people tend to favour their own interests and priorities.

‘Exactly,’ he said, ‘think about that. Even those who are moved by a passion of the soul don’t always understand each other. But following that passion is the primary purpose of your life. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.’

What he told me has stuck in my head since then. Writing, like any art, is a passion of the soul. A passion that drives us to create and spread joy to other people, to help them and ourselves relate to the world just that bit better. And creation is the fundamental purpose of life itself.

That’s all the excuse I need, how about you?

Ciao for now,


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