Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Do You Write?

            At the graduation ceremony for Seton Hill’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, I give, as co-Director of the program, several introductory remarks to the audience at the start of the ceremony.  The remarks this time involved a common topic that had been introduced for the entire Residency.  We provide such topics for each of the on-campus stays to provide focus for the activities that week, especially for the writing workshops where time might allow for more discussion. 
            The topic for this last January Residency was the question, “Why do you write?”
            At the opening Orientation on the first night I introduced the question and had the students write an answer.  I would have used their responses in my speech at the Commencement, but I need to write these remarks before the Residency takes place (in order to allow the administration enough time to review the script before the event).  So, when composing the remarks, I searched online and found a wonderful website, “FictionAddiction,” that already had collected a large number of answers to that same question.  I read through the answers there and used several of them, with some modification, for the Commencement. 
            The resulting mini-speech was successful enough that a number of students asked if I would reprint it here in my blog.  And it appears below. I hope you find the collection of responses as interesting, illuminating, and inspiring as my students said that they did.

            Good afternoon.
            We began this Residency with a question:  “Why do you write?”  And the responses to that question are many and varied.  “I write because I love stories.”  “I write because I like to build things.”  “I write to make up time I never really had.” 
            These replies vary from the simple, “I write because I can’t dance,” to the eloquent, “I write to dwell in compassion, to love the unlovable, to understand the humanity of those with whom I would disagree.” 
            Some answers are practical and blunt:  “No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” (that was quoted from Samuel Johnson, by the way), or “I write because I enjoy having a world I can control.” 
            Some are playful, “I write because you look funny if you talk to yourself,” and some are serious, “I write to stop time.” 
            Some contradict and yet oddly support each other, “I write to define myself” and “I write to get a break from being me.” 
            One of my favorites is, “I write because if I don’t I become narrow-minded and forgetful.”  And, perhaps the reason most direct, and yet profound, “I write because I have to.” 
            But a reply most pertinent to our ceremony today is, “I write because I can.” 
            You’re here to receive a Master of Fine Arts in writing because now you can.  You’ve done it.  You’ve written, revised, packaged, presented, defended, and concluded, the novel that you wrote.  And maybe you wrote more than one. 
            So, you can.  You did.  And, though there might be as many responses to the question “Why do you write?” as there are graduates here today—and as many as the large number of writers in this room right now—this graduation guarantees that one of your responses will always be true:  because I can.

            And to all you writers out there, I repeat that simple and yet wonderful statement: 
            You can.

The responses “quoted” (not always exactly to make the style consistent) came from the following writers, listed here to tally with the paragraphs above: 
1.     Amy Brill, Edmund White, David Whitehouse
2.     Diana Spechler, Ru Freeman
3.     Joshua Cohen, Adam Wilson
4.     Anna North, Jennifer Gilmore
5.     Said Sayrafiezadeh,  Allison Amend
6.     Caitlin Campbell,  Ann Napolitano
7.     A. Igoni Barrett
The full version of their answers can be found at: