Why do we create? What motivates us to surround ourselves with beauty? Why plant a flower garden or weave a tapestry or paint a mural? Why make even the most functional objects into works of art?
I have seen some success as a writer recently, so you’d think I would be past this question and moving on to more technical questions. But the “why” in any pursuit is never fully answered, and it has been nagging me more lately than it ever has.
Last month, I was accepted into an MFA program that I will attend in the fall, and three of my poems were selected for publication by a literary journal. Besides being rejected by other schools and journals, I have had some of the confirmation that many writers crave, and I am incredibly grateful for this. I am finally seeing a path emerging before me, and, while I can’t see the full road, there are some landmarks materializing ahead that I can see and know, and these landmarks tell me that I will be a writer. NO. That I AM a writer.
But I don’t always feel like a writer. Since graduating in May 2016, I’ve had weeks of inspiration and habitual writing that plummet into periods of self-doubt and “breaks” away from the computer. I’m currently in one of those “breaks” and feeling that I’ve lost sight of any vision of my future that involves me being successful at writing. So I asked myself the other day why I am doing this at all.
Below is the result of a discovery process I went through by simply sitting at my computer and trying to answer the question, “Why do I write?” If you are an artistic person of any kind, I encourage you to try writing or meditating on what motivates you. Everyone is motivated by different things, but maybe you’ll find something from my ramblings that resonates with you as well.
When I was around nine, I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings. I saw the movies. I owned the action figures. I read the books. I was drawn to this story like no other narrative I’d heard or seen up until that point. My imagination was thrilled by the adventure and near-death moments; the elves and dragons and hobbits and wizards and dwarves; the moss on the trees and rocks, the cities built on cliffs, and the homes built into holes. I thought these elements alone made a good story, so I tried to write my own. My 120 page novel had kings, monsters, ships, magic, and cliff hangers. This made up a good story, I thought, but something was missing. It was only later that I realized what made The Lord of the Rings so powerful. It was more than the elements of fantasy and adventure. I had seen films try to recreate this and fail, not sure why the stories did not affect me in the same way.
The Lord of the Rings is not successful because it inspires people to dress in medieval clothes, live in hobbit holes, and play video games where killing orcs is the main objective. J.R.R. Tolkien had a brilliant imagination, but he had an even more brilliant understanding of human nature, of good and evil, of love, of truth, and of bravery. In one story, love makes warriors out of gardeners, mortals out of elves, martyrs out of princes, and kings out of rangers. In the end, evil cannot touch the whole world, and there is still a sunrise above the clouds. I didn’t love the story because of the dragons. I loved the story because it gave me hope.
Why do I write?
I write because there is always hope. I write because I know nothing, and writing is an unburying–a divulging. It is a search for understanding, for uncovering truths buried behind both lies and facts. It is an adventure through dark places, a journey that takes you there and back again and leaves you transformed, finding beauty where you least expected it to thrive. Writing is a trespass into someone else’s world, to live and breathe and smell and taste and feel a place and a culture and an experience that, once other, becomes familiar and, over time, a part of oneself. To write is to create beauty—not for ego’s sake or for pride or recognition—but for the sake of creation, for the very joy of becoming more like the one who created me by in turn becoming co-creator and telling parables like He did.
To write is an act of worship. It is meditation and love. It tells lies to find truths. It takes secrets and makes them known. It re-forms truths so that they are questioned. It dismantles prejudice, painting faces onto facts and breathing life into them. I create, but not out of nothing as my Creator did. I create with what He has given, molding and reshaping what exists so that it may be seen in a new way. I imitate my Creator and draw beauty from tragedy, life from death, and hope from despair.
Yes, I write to be read. But what if I am the only one who reads? Will I gain from this transforming? Will I love creating enough to do it just for me? If writing is an act of worship—if it is a discovery and a journey—then writing is also for me.
I write—I create—in order to be created.
Maybe this is why artists of all kinds create. Art itself inspires beauty and hope and joy, but what about the process? The process can be painful and taxing on both the mind and the body. It takes time and care and sacrifice. But through that process–whether we are laying bricks and building strength or drawing landscapes that transport us or walking alongside characters from our own imaginations–we are the ones being created. We are drawing upon the experiences of others, pouring out our time and energy for the sake of beauty, and learning not only about ourselves but about our world and our God and our beliefs. Tapestries and novels and paintings and buildings can be finished. The creation process ends, and they are considered “good.” But we, the creators, are never finished, and so we keep creating.
Creator, as I create, create me, that I may be more like You.