Why Do Writers Write About Writing?

FIrst, let’s talk about me. This is where I am living now:


Which pleases me to no end. I’m in a little place called Zdiar, Slovakia, perched on a hill with a rolling view of the High Tatras in front of me every day (at least when the rain and clouds don’t obscure them.)

This is a quiet place. There is time to think, to reflect, to go on seven-hour walks or to read an entire book on the porch. There is also copious amounts of cheap, delicious alcohol and not a whole lot else to do.  Borovicka nightly? Don’t mind if I do.

The other night after a shot or two of the local spirit I started thinking about something relating to writing. Namely, the fact that everyone and their sister thinks they have a great book inside of them, if only they had time to write it, and that those people who do take the plunge and actually write tend to talk endlessly about their goddamn writing. I don’t mean giving instruction or talking up their book or whatever. I mean that I-overcame-writer’s block blah blah blah, I managed to write somehow because writing is SO HARD you guys but I totally did it, someone give me a medal please? This is not to say that every writer does this, or even that it’s undeserved. Writing is difficult, and time-consuming, and so often the rewards are ever so meager.

First let’s discuss the first aspect of this: why is it that so many people think they can write, or think they should write? I see no such compunction among the general human population to say, paint a glorious painting or carve a statue or perform a contemporary dance or any of the other million creative endeavours by which we can express ourselves.

I’d like to think it’s because writing, because storytelling, is so hardwired into us. We speak every day, we tell stories every day. Our own lives are the greatest of sagas. Is it not natural to turn, then, to writing as a more permanent expression of everyday oral (heh) storytelling? It doesn’t require one to pick up a paintbrush after all, or to learn how to carve marble – you’re just putting words on paper, which is something most of us do every day in some form, whether you’re writing a grocery list or a college essay or hate mail to your loud neighbors.

This is not at all to say that writing is something easy, or something you don’t need to practice. It’s a subtle and a fine craft which requires practice, just like anything else. But that entry – picking up a pen and putting it to paper – is something we’ve done before. To whatever dizzying heights of skill the writer may later ascend, it still comes from that pen, and that paper. (Or word processor, typewriter, feather dipped in blood, whatever. You get the point.)

Then. Once people have written something, or while they’re writing something, or while they’re thinking about one day writing something, how frequently they write thousands of unrelated words about how hard it is to write! Or about how they overcame writer’s block. Or how to feel more creative. I wouldn’t call instructional writing a part of this circular word-faff, because every craft has its instructional manuals, from concrete-pouring to taxidermy. But how many other professions has so much writing devoted purely to itself? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t often see books about architects discussing how they found the architectural muse or overcame engineering-block. Maybe they’re out there. I’d totally read them. But probably not, you know?

So, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this from here. i just thought it was an interesting thing to point out. And it’s curious as to why it is like this. Why does the act of writing itself inspire so much navel-gazing and – self-reflection? that other fields seem to lack? Is it cultural? Is it a constant throughout cultures and history, or is this something that has appeared only recently?

Any thoughts on this, word nerds?



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