Why Writers Meta-Write

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There are dozens of articles on “why writers write.” It is easy to find surveys of groups of writers and in-depth interviews with particular writers. A first-grade class even came up with a fantastic chart about why writers write. Writers seem to not only like to write, but to like to write about writing. I’d like to submit that it is because writers like to explain things, either to themselves or to others.

If we can write something down coherently, it is a pretty good indicator of how well we understand it. A good study method for complex information is to write about something you are trying to learn as if you are trying to explain it someone else. It shows where you still have gaps in your knowledge and helps you connect all the parts of the whole. William Zinsser was a champion of this idea in his book Writing to Learn.

We also write to explain things to others. Even fiction and poetry are a means of explanation. The author is trying to explain thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Everyone writes in a way they understand, but as a reader, the magic comes when you find a writer who writes in a way you understand.

Writers write about writing to understand why they write. In order to write a convincing character, you have to understand their motivations, so maybe writers are just trying to be as complete in their own minds as the characters they create on paper. Even those of us who write non-fiction are creating characters. We’re trying to create something and it always has a human element. Sometimes the reader is the character we’re trying to create, sometimes it is ourselves, or sometimes it’s a historical character.

Writers write about things they know and all writers know writing. We share the triumphs and challenges of taking a page from blank to full. Reaching word-counts, page-counts, and finishing a project. Rewriting and re-attacking an idea. Days when the sentences come forth naturally and effortlessly. Days when you spend too much time trying to figure out one sentence, one phrase, one word.

We write about writing because we like to read about writing. Most writers tend to contribute to genres and subjects they are interested in. Maybe we carry the hope that even if we aren’t that good, maybe we can give some insight or inspiration to someone else to propel them to greatness.

If we are fortunate, we write because at some point we put a group of words on paper or a screen and some somebody said, “Wow! That’s really good.” We really liked the way that felt and we want it again. We write about writing to try to figure out how we did it that time and what we need to do in order to do it again.

Finally, and perhaps most transparently, sometimes writers write about writing because after staring a blank page for too long, we know it might be the only way we’ll hit our word count for the day.

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