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Are Writers Selfish?

February 12, 2010

I broached this topic in a previous post that asked whether writing benefited the world, and whether we squander our intelligence to do better things (like becoming a doctor, etc) in order to become a writer. I think one thing I didn’t mention was that many writers don’t write full time, and so maybe their intelligence is not completely ‘wasted.’ I was surprised I didn’t get more hubbub out of that one—you mean you think writing isn’t worth anything, Miss Susana? Well let me shove western canon up your a**, you might argue—but hey, I don’t know what you guys are thinking. Anyhow, on with the post.

Writing seems like a completely selfish act. Reading lots of writerly blogs, I often come across authors who admit that they need to write, that it is not a choice but a necessity, and yet at the very same time it is cathartic and consuming. Writing may be done with the hope of a six-figure paycheck, but most writers would have to write even if they knew they’d never get recognition–writing may find an audience, but the audience isn’t necessary.

I was talking to one of my good friends about the topic, because we both consider ourselves smart people who are consumed by writing. We wonder whether wanting to write when we’ve been handed the keys to do other, possibly better things is selfish, and whether the world really needs our work, our voice. And maybe it is a selfish act, or maybe it’s a disease that we can’t be blamed for, but I think the most likely explanation is sheer modesty and doubt. Writers are insecure, we wonder everyday whether our work is worthy, and whether it has any significance. But how can expression not have significance? Sure you might be one in 6 billion but—in true Western sentiment—the individual still matters. Your journey is unique to you, and deserves to be voiced.

So, is writing a selfish act? Is it an incurable disease?

When have you ever doubted your writing? What made you move past your doubt, what justified the subsequent stroke of your pen?

Finally, am I being ridiculous making a fuss about all this? Is writing just writing, and should no guilt or justification be involved?

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