What's The Story? Writers Reveal Why They Write

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Cranking out page after page can be a lot of work. Why do writers bother? Paul Galipeau/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Galipeau/Flickr
Typewriter

Cranking out page after page can be a lot of work. Why do writers bother?

Paul Galipeau/Flickr

Whether they craft fiction or nonfiction, poetry or plays, writers use words to transport readers, and from the simplest blog post to the great American novel, it's a process — and it's hard work. So, why do they do it?

Ralph Eubanks, author of The House At The End Of The Road and Ever Is A Long Time, tells NPR's Tony Cox that he finds inspiration in something writer Paul Hendrickson once told him.

Hendrickson said, "Never forget that someone asked you to tell your story" — and as a memoir writer, Eubanks feels fortunate to be able to tell that story.

Hendrickson also quoted Walker Evans to Eubanks, saying, "When you write, you always want to capture the cruel radiance of what is."

That, Eubanks says, is what helps him dig deep down into himself.

"There's something both emotionally satisfying about it, and something that is very physically satisfying when you finally see your work when it comes out in a finished book, or when you see the pages at the end of the day," he says.

Siobhan Fallon, author of the forthcoming collection of stories You Know When The Men Are Gone, writes about what she knows — life on a military post when soldiers are being deployed.

"When people think 'military' they get this visual of an American soldier and it's easy to forget the families that all are standing behind that soldier," Fallon says. She says her fascination with the largely untold stories of the families behind the soldiers is what prompts her to write.

Short-fiction writer ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, has a nuanced answer to the question of why she writes.

"I think when we engage in language we are engaging in something that is specifically and primally human," Packer says.

But Packer also acknowledges the lows of the life of a writer.

"There can be a misery component," she says. Packer calls the writing process a "cognitive workout" and explains, "you're constantly having to toil in your own field — your emotional minefield — always digging up aspects from the past and old wounds."

Packer says that while all that digging can be quite painful, it's worth it.

"To be able to do that on a daily basis and not to just only be able to read other writers, and to read language, but to be able to create it and re-create emotional states in a reader you haven't seen," she says, " … [is] an incredible high."

If you're a writer, tell us: What motivates you to put pen to paper, fingers to keys?

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