Reasons to write (by Charlotte Wood)

I came across an article in Friday’s The Australian in which author Charlotte Wood shared the contents of an email she sent to a couple of close friends when she was writing her novel, The Natural Way of Things. She’d begun to lose faith in her project and wondered how it could possibly benefit the world. This is part of that email.

But I have bucked myself up a little bit, by writing a list of reasons to keep going. Here’s what I came up with. Reasons to write:

To make something beautiful. Beauty does not have to mean prettiness, but can emerge from the scope of one’s imagination, the precision of one’s words, the steadiness and honesty of one’s gaze.

To make something truthful. ‘Truth is beauty, beauty truth.’

To make use of what you have and who you are. Even a limited talent brings with it an obligation to explore it, develop it, exercise it, be grateful for it.

To make, at all. To create is to defy emptiness. It is generous, it affirms. To make is to add to the world, not subtract from it. It enlarges, does not diminish.

Because as Iris Murdoch said, paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.

I read this section intently and as I read it the words blurred with tears. I realised Charlotte’s words were a balm to my heart, because it is my secret fear that in writing stories I’m wasting time. Wasting the time of others and wasting my own time. Whiling away hours in fictitious worlds when I could be doing something concrete and helpful. Maybe having a medical degree makes this feeling more acute (even though I still work as a surgical assistant, it’s not the same level of ‘helping’ as being a GP). But I suspect a lot of writers have this same fear, at least until they write a bestseller and get hundreds of emails about how the book changed the correspondent’s life. 🙂

So to any writers out there who get doubts, feel uncertain, lose faith … you’re definitely not alone. And this post is for you.


4 thoughts on “Reasons to write (by Charlotte Wood)

  1. As you can imagine, I totally relate to your feelings. (I must have missed it because I didn’t realise until I read this that you were a doctor, too!) Recently, I wrote on a friend’s blog how selfish and lazy I feel because I don’t contribute to the family income, nor do I do much housework or cooking! Instead, I sit and write stories, but I know how much happier I am because I’m doing that, and I know I’m a better mother, wife, and friend because I’m doing what I want to do.
    I recently read this quote of Howard Thurman’s: ‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’ The world probably needs workers, but it also needs artists. I totally get what Charlotte Wood is saying, and what Liz Gilbert and every other artistic person who’s ever said similarly: Creating art is worthwhile and not a waste of time.

  2. Hi Louise,
    I love that quote by Howard Thurman. Now I have something else to read over when I doubt what I’m doing.
    You’re right about being a better mother, wife and friend. I think these days I’m calmer and I listen more fully.
    I don’t do much housework either 🙂

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