Why I Write is a very common essay topic. If you’ve ever taken any writing class, that’s probably the first essay you get asked to write. No matter how many times we were asked this question, we would always scribble away furiously on our sheets of paper, conjuring up images of our childhood, similar but different, some of us reading CS Lewis under the covers at night, the others writing fantasy plays for our siblings. There was always a reason, sometimes charming and sweet, sometimes less so. #WhyIwrite was even a trending hashtag on twitter recently. I said something vague about storytelling lasting through the ages.
But much more often than asking why we do write, I think it’s important to ask, why we don’t write. I can think of a lot of of good reasons why, though not many corresponding ways to combat those reasons. I can also think of a lot of my friends and peers who are talented writers but rarely take to the page.
Writing comes very easy to me. I am not saying I’m a particularly talented writer, I don’t think I am, but for better or for worse, I can write, in large volumes at a time. I don’t suffer from writer’s block (although to be fair I have never worked as professional writer with deadlines so who knows?). I write for leisure and leisure can just shut the laptop whenever it wants before writer’s block rears its ugly head.
There are many reasons why I don’t write. Firstly, I have a lot of expectations from writing. Not only does it have to come out exactly as I want it to be, writing needs to reveal some kind of amazing truth to me and the reader. It needs to be witty and unique in its observations, it needs to remove veils, otherwise, what is the point? Yet my most read post on WordPress is the one where I ramble endlessly, no purpose in sight, quoting Shakespeare and Into the Woods, and making no sense whatsoever. I don’t write because I am afraid that it won’t be perfect. I am terrified, in fact. My journals are filled back-to-back with entries and I have at least 20 drafts in my WordPress that I don’t publish because they’re not good enough.
Another reason why I don’t write is because I have been brought up to believe writing is frivolous, even useless. There’s two kinds of people (okay, maybe three but let’s not bother defining the third category)- one: the kind who derive their purpose from life from utilitarian work, they need to count numbers on a page, or lay brick, or cook hot meals. There’s the second kind, who derive their purpose from creative expression–they perfect their pas des deux, their brushstrokes, their music, their writing. I don’t really know which one I am, and it is possible, like everything else, that I am both. And while this is good it’s also bad, because I suffer from #masterofnone syndrome in that, well, I am not the master of anything, but slightly good at most things.
I am a serious-minded person so I always wanted to be taken seriously. There is a stereotype in East Asian countries that creative or artistic fields are not serious ones. This doesn’t come from a superficial bias ,as we can mistakenly think, but from a very realistic awareness of what career choices will secure your bread and butter. You’re much more acutely aware of your bread and butter when you or your family or your nation has seen a life without bread and butter. Ergo the generations and generations of doctors, engineers, and businessmen. A pas de deaux will likely not secure your bread and butter (tempted to make a food-related ballet joke here but I will not).
So every time I write, feelings of guilt and shame creep up within me. I am being silly, I think and nonserious, and indulgent. Creative expression first and foremost comes from an expression of self, and if you have real problems and real responsibility, then you cannot afford to paint or write a very accurate self-portrait. I call this third-world guilt, and I am sure many more suffer from this, perhaps without even realizing it. Interestingly, I think this phenomena is what attributes to some of the crises faced by people who are more privileged, making us wonder what is the balance we should strike in being luxuriously self-aware and self-reflective but also looking outside of ourselves and being practical. I don’t really have an answer to this question, but I’d be happy to do some Camus-related research to get to one.
Finally, I am afraid of over-sharing on social media. It is a huge pet peeve of mine. I find most overtly self-indulgent social media posts to be nauseating, so why wouldn’t mine elicit the same reaction from my readers?
So as this new year is rolling around, I am going to try to face my fears a little. I will post unabashedly, worrying less about how I appear and more about improving my craft and sharing my thoughts and ideas while they are still fresh.
What’s there to lose?
Don’t answer that.