Why Do You Write?

By Anthony S. Policastro

Ever since I read David Morrell's fascinating article Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing on Backspace I couldn't get the question out of my head, why does anyone write?

He basically says because writers have unresolved traumas that cause them to write. So I wrote him and asked if there could be writers without traumas. Here's
what he told me in an email:

"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American lives. Applying this to writing, we could say that if a writer creates in relation to a trauma, he or she stops being creative when the trauma is resolved. This has been the case in a number of American writers. But for most of us, the traumas continue. For example, until 1987, I wrote in response to my father's death in WWII and the orphanage I was put in. But after 1987, I wrote in response to my son's death from bone cancer. I never do it deliberately, however. The stories insist."
If you don't know who David Morrell is, he is the award winning author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel that started the Rambo series.

So, I've been trying to determine my trauma, but it eludes me - I've been lucky most of my life - normal childhood, normal straight-arrow adulthood, living the American Dream. The best I could come up with is that I fear loss, but I have not had any major losses. Could there be levels of traumas that affect each of us differently? My losses are nothing compared to his, but could we both be affected the same way and hence have this need to write?

His response:
"The trauma need not be a violent dramatic one in the sense of child abuse or things of that nature. For an author friend, it was the death of his father when he was 8. He often writes about perfect summers of youth that are interrupted. Another author told me that he had a perfect childhood, and then he added, "But I got picked on a lot." He now writes about assassins righting wrongs.
The key questions are:
Why do I want to be a writer? The authentic answer to that is 'Because I need to be.' But why do I NEED to be? What accounts for the obsession?

The answer to that leads you to self-understanding. You said you 'fear loss.' That's an interesting statement and a major theme. You might never know why you fear loss. That's not the point. It's your core emotion and perhaps the reason that you tell stories.

Writers' block is possibly caused by 3 things.
1. The story is just no good, and the subconscious realizes it.
2. The author becomes anal retentive in the first draft and can't move from sentence to sentence.
3. The author doesn't listen to what the story wants to do. Our goal is to serve the story. We must open ourselves and let the story talk to us.

The latter is the best advice I can give to anyone."
Why do you write?

Note: A longer version of his Backspace article is available in his book on writing LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, which will soon be re-released as THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST: A LIFETIME OF LESSONS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING. (From Source Books).

His latest novel, SCAVENGER is now available everywhere.


  1. Sorry, couldn't seem to get started there at first.

    This is a very interesting question to which I am not certain I know the answer. With regard to the premise of trauma, I think it is a reasonable suggestion, made with an excellent argument. However, I don't know that I agree. Of course, a physchologist may be able to uncover some deep emotions I am masking, but I don't feel it, and I don't feel my writing is a response to anything other than the story I am trying to tell. I think it is, in general, a bit of a stretch to posit a theory on something as arbitrary as "why" with any certainty that stretches beyond your own personal experience.

    But that begs the question you originally asked: Why do I write? Personally, I write to try to tell a fantastic story. I hope to entertain...but also to teach, humor, and inspire individual thought. We've all read a work that made us do that. And, I suppose, I've decided that nothing is more powerful or important than creating those feelings that so overwhelmed us in another. That, I think, is why I write.

  2. I don't agree. I write because it's a natural part of the way I connect with the world. What goes into that and what motivates it is the whole of my experience, not just the hard parts.

    I've inteviewed many songwriters in the course of my work, and would say that what I've heard from them supports that. One may write from trauma at a given time, and come back to keep figuring that out, sure, but there are other reasons which lead one to write as well.