Friday, February 11, 2005


I write because I have to. Or do I? Consider the numbing number of people who write because they have to, as evidenced by this Google search (initiated one evening by my good friend Paul Larsen).

It begins to become the mantra of the indoctrinated, the litany of the rosary-bead-counting priest, the tick-tock of some literary clock. I-write-be-cause-I-have-to. And the gears lament their way through another mechanical rotation of the inevitable. (I sure didn't write that sentence because I had to. Unfortunately, you had to read it.) Let us examine these claims of "writing because I have to," without naming names--they're public enough as it is. And I, at heart, may be one of them, horrible though it is to admit to joining the Army of the Trite...

More than anything I write because I have to
because I want to make a difference to someone~ to anyone~
because I want people to listen to me
and to understand.
I write because
that's who I am.


Why do I write? Because I have to. God gave me a talent. HE gives me the words. HE is my inspiration. HE called me to write. I was always taught that if I didn't use the talents God gave me, I would lose them. Well, I refuse to lose a gift from my Lord.


I write because I have to, because the urge is almost physical in nature. I see a couple fighting in the supermarket, geese flying overhead as I walk, my daughter's smile when she opens a new box of crayons and my heart and mind jump to attention. Together, they hatch a plan and before I know it, I'm at the keyboard.


I don't know about you but I write because I have to. I've been writing for so long that it is imbedded in my genetic code


I write because I have to write. It's my therapy, my way of stating the truth as I see it. Truth is something I've been somewhat consumed with for some time now. To speak the truth or better yet be true.


Why do I write? I write for many reasons, but most of the time I write because I have to.


I write because I have to write, because the writing comes - not all the time, by any means, and not very often. I tend to write in spurts, with months of no writing at all in-between.


But I don't write, primarily, for political reasons. I write because I have to.


I write because I have to. There’s no way around it—believe me, if there was, I would have found it by now.


I write because I have to. It's what He put in me. It's what He called me to do.


I WRITE BECAUSE I HAVE TO. Like a musician, I’ve found the ability that The ONE has allowed me to voice. Like a blowhole I can express myself. Others are still trying to find it. I'm afraid that others may never find it, but I have.


I write because I have to do it. That is a voice in my head.


I don’t write to be happy or to receive any sort of satisfaction, I write because I have to, because for me writing is like breathing.

[Must fight attempt Oh what the heck: that one is this pompous son-of-a-bitch.]


I write because I have to or else I'll go crazy. Some writers (like me) feel like Paul Revere. We have to alert the world that something's coming - evil, good, death, life. We can't get off the horse because we know the truth (or our version of truth) and we have to share it. No lie.


Do you call a shark brave? I write because I have to.


I would have killed for luck. And hope was something I lost somewhere during book four. I write because I have to write; it’s who I am.


[I can't go on. I must go on.]

Being a poet is like having two marriages. I write because I have to. If I don’t, I become physically ill. It is something like breathing, eating, or drinking water.
[And that pompous son-of-a-bitch is also a poet! What? Do they Have a monopoly?!]


But I have another terrible affliction, too. I'm a writer. Anyone who doesn't think
that this is an affliction has no idea what they're talking about. I don't write because it's a bit of a laugh. I don't write because it seems like an easy route to a middle-class lifestyle. I write because I have to. I don't get any say in it - if I don't write, the words build up, they strain at the edges of my brain, and I cannot concentrate. Without a word of exaggeration, I have trouble focusing on the simplest things. Even at the best of times, the odds are that whatever I'm actually doing, there'll be 30% of my brain that's juggling words, plots, characters, concepts and methods of execution.
[Talk about smug!]


I write because I have to. Do you ask a dolphin how it swims?

[And oh my god, that pompous ME...]

And...oh, but I can't go on. You'll have to investigate the rest yourself.

Whether young or old, Mingus or unknown (and can you tell which is which from the above?), Derek Walcott or unpublished (and can you tell them by their syntax?), crippled or whole, insane or sane, religious or not religious, it seems that almost 1,180 web pages express the notion that we write "because we have to."

I sense conspiracy. I sense a vast CIA thought experiment or an alien abduction crisis.

At the very least, I have been forever cured of the notion that I write because I have to. I think now, having been super-saturated with the romantic notion of writing because one has to, that I write because I want to. I write because I want to. It doesn't matter what I want to. Just that I want to want to. (Certainly, now, with the Wagnerian chorus of voices rising in my memory, next time I'm asked why I write, I will most definitely provide an answer other than "er, because I have ta? what was the question again?"

And another thought: Too bad most readers don't read because they have to...

"I read because I have to. If I didn't, my imagination would shrivel to the size of a pea and my brain would explore ways to leave my boring body."

I write because I have to. This blog entry is proof. It had to exist or I would not be happy or fulfilled or satisfied or satiated or contented or joyful or joyous or epiphanized or metamorphosized or...All your motivation belong to us...

(Evil Monkey: "You follow up your thoughtful Kafka on the Shore post with this...this drivel?" Jeff: "I write because I have to." Evil Monkey: "I listen because I have to. How sad is that?" Jeff: "Oh my god. I can't get it out of my head. I write because I have to. I write because I have to. I write because I have to. I write because I have to. I write because I have to.")


At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's "All your motivations are belong to us."

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See prior post on value of imperfection.

All your corrections are belong to me.


At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I read because I have to. I read beacuse without the escape it provides I'd fall right back to the hallucinogens and the speed and the coke and the alcohol and find my escape in things that just harm my physical existance....

As for why I write.... I write because I want to be God. Its the same reason I got a degree in biochemistry (and probably why it took a couple of years for me to realize that creating life is not being God... creating new modes of awareness is) and has now led me to seek my masters in Literature. People who claim they write because they have to just haven't learned who they are yet... but they'll get it someday.

And for whetever reason you write, I still think its always worth it.

At 4:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always been deeply dubious about the whole "I write because I have to" thing because it seems to me that it comes straight out of the Cool Writer/Tortured Artist Cliche drawer that attempts to mystify and romanticise writing and make writers cool not for what they have written - which is fair enough - but simply for the very act of being a writer. Actually, I ought to say, for the very act of being a Writer.

Which is convenient, because you can indulge in the act of being a writer without, you know, writing very much.

But it's also dangerous, I think, because there are many people who can write and can write very well, but who don't feel that they have an obsessive compulsion to write, and they might end up feeling that they are somehow lesser writers, or maybe not writers at all, because their lives don't fall apart if they don't commit words to paper. And I think that's wrong.

Sometimes writing is difficult, and at some times it does come harder than at others, but for the most part I write because it's fucking good fun, and I like doing it. I'd miss it if I didn't.

Now, eating cheese, that's something I do because I have to.


At 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I want to know is which VanderMeer writes these essays?

Is it: Tremble, mortals! The Mephistophelian image on the Vanderworld Homepage (I know what's up with him and ,exactly what's in mortal peril because of his teachings!)? Or is it the seemingly fresh-faced mild-mannered youth on the main webpage?

Although, as you look closely at that picture, your right eye seems bigger than the left. It fact, it is bigger than the left. Actually, it's growing! Growing to fill the whole screen. Deep in the Iris, shapes...No tentacles! writhe in the inky depths! They reach out for you...Ahrrrgh! I GET IT, I GET IT! HA!HA! FAIR IS FOUL AND FOUL IS FAIR!

Acid flashback! Acid Flashback!!

At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I write because no one stops me.

Is that Army of the Trite similar to the flying monkeys of OZ?


At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah--I've thought about retiring the photo of me on this blog, but it's just so evil-looking, I can't resist keeping it there.

Lucius Shepard wrote on my messageboard thread about this that he gives the "I write because I have to answer" because it's quick and easy. And it is half the truth. I mean, you're certainly driven to want to tell stories, etc. I think I write because I get a real buzz from the actual process of putting down a rough draft. Keith's right, too, though... Anyway, it was just funny to see how many times that phrase cropped up.


At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I write because I have to"


"I am melodramatic and self important in my explanations about why I write because I can't think of a cogent reason and am both lazy and secretly wracked with self doubt; which may clue you in to the quality of the writing I 'have' to do... also I feel very small and hence am almost certain I am without free will."

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry if that came across as terribly cynical. haha.

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I write to spite those people who think I ought not to write.

At 6:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

came across warren ellis' description of the feeling of having ideas this morning:

"I am beaming Sex Rays across the world and my brain is all lit up with Holy Fire. If I felt like it, I could shag a million nuns and destroy their faith in Christ. From my chair."

that's actually a pretty good clue into this "I have to" thing. speaking as an artist I can say that the feeling you get 50% of the time, that of transcendent creator, holy genius, of connection to something deeper, of wild giddiness, of power... well it's addicting in a way. of course the other 50% of the time you are filled with self loathing and terror... and to be honest that 50/50 split may be a bit generous.

in any case, the feeling of creating, when you are sure you've just done something special and right, however fleeting, may in fact be the only honest reason behind the "I have to" statement. it's still not a well thought out answer. closer to the truth would most likely be, "it makes me feel alive in a way nothing else manages to." which accounts for why we all continue to do something which fills us with misery and self loathing at least 50% of the time.

in that sense it might be characterized as an addiction, in which case answering "I have to" suddenly makes perfect sense.

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The successful writer says, "I have, because I write too."

They all make it sound like an itch, that no matter how scratchity you get on it, it still itches. 'Writing is like a incurable rash to me.' Icky.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Mike said...

I write about writing because I have to. If I didn't write about writing, I'd have to write something actually useful or hard. Maybe I'll have some ice cream and watch Star Trek instead.

At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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