Why I Write: Does the World Need More Writers?

Post author Benjamin Inks reading at homeBenjamin Inks is a Seattle native who graduated magna cum laude from the Ohio State University. He’s a purple-hearted veteran who writes whenever he can, aspiring to one day turn his passion into a career. He resides in Northern Virginia.

Benjamin’s essay “The Psychology of Concealed Carry” appeared in LPR’s Summer 2019 issue. His guest post is part of our regular “Why I Write” series.

Too Much Media
Writing as an artistic expression seems to be facing an existential crisis. Too many successful writerly people nowadays are dropping the Book in favor of the YouTube Channel. The Podcast. The Blog. The Netflix Series. Etc. These new platforms may just be the indomitable evolution of books— and I just need to get with it— fine, fair enough. But what seems to dishearten me most about these new media options is their sheer proliferation. New content could cease henceforth, and we would still have more than enough online-accessible media than anyone could possibly consume in five lifetimes. Top search results show there are already 130 million books to read, 500,000 movies to view, and Lord knows how many “watchable”/ entertaining-or-informative YouTube videos.

So, what the hell could I possibly contribute to this mess, and why do I persist with my dream of becoming a writer?

The Will to Hobby
I started out, like many others, because of romanticized success stories like J.K. Rowling. After all, who doesn’t want to just sit at home and grow rich off their own ideas? Writing is an intensely viable and tempting artform due to our knowledge of words and our proximity to the keyboard, whereas music and say, painting, require special supplies and technical finesse. My goal was always to maintain an interest in writing— mainly as a hobby— and then after a long and distinguished career doing something sexy and dangerous, I would return pen in hand and pump out that bestseller.

The question is: why does anyone start a hobby? Well, because they enjoy it! It diverts free time into something meaningful and productive, and it helps us grow. But there’s a difference between having a simple hobby and fully investing yourself in an artform. One is fun and carefree; one is painful, tedious, and has a high chance of producing a bumbling, miserable life full of doubt and self-loathing (BUT full investment does offer the occasional amphetamine-level natural high when you hit your creative Flow [usually around 1 AM after imbibing twenty ounces of black coffee, pacing around endlessly, and thumping yourself repeatedly over the head with the nearest paperback]).

A Lifestyle
My shift from occasionally-pooping-out-a-hopeless-short-story to laboring-months-over-2,000-words happened gradually, with much inducement from classic writing advice:

  1. Read non-stop, every waking hour.
  2. Write as often as you can.
  3. Don’t give up . . .
  4. Reading is arguably more important than actual writing.

Eventually, following this mantra, my little hobby festered into something more. My failure to achieve employment in one of the few elite career paths I deigned to pursue might have spurred this transition. I’ll never know if I’d be this devoted to writing had I snatched a big-boy job with a salary and health plan, but at this point, I am past the point of no return. Thankfully, writing is one of the more marketable artforms, so I might one day end up with a nine-to-five career after all. I can think of worse fates than to put your art to work, even if it’s done by rote and not in pursuit of your own ideas.

What locked me into the Writing Game was a discovery of the power of words, and the joy in chasing them. After quickly applying all the low-hanging writing advice, I began to piece out a seemingly perennial thread common among centuries of wordsmiths: I learned that words and stories have the ability to construct our realities and provide empathetic context to our experience. Using words as such can be life-changing. Indeed, isn’t that therapy? Paying an articulate professional to skillfully put into words events or phenomena which were previously indescribable to you?

Thought-Wrangling? Psyche-Swimming? (& Other Such Name-Dropping)
Don DeLillo calls writing “concentrated thinking.” As someone who is in the market for a true/accurate synonym for the word “writing,” I appreciate this appellation. Concentrated thinking means deeply investigating and parsing a specific scenario, emotion, or idea which I find intriguing and deserving of further exploration and understanding. Writing allows my imagination to run wild, and I believe the first step in rehearsal is to imagine yourself doing something. In that regard, writing is an open portal to a limitless possibility of worlds. For me, this possibility supersedes even the coolest or plushest of salary jobs.

A story told well— from my experience— takes your total insight and subconscious comprehension on a particular topic and distills that knowledge into something easily digestible for others. In that way, stories link your past to your present, and vice versa. Stories are really like shortcuts to learned experience. As George R.R. Martin puts it, “A Reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

So, I don’t know if I’ll ever get paid for any of my writing. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish a book. I don’t know if I’ll produce the next great conspiracy-theory podcast, gain a YouTube following, or see my name in any end credits. With so much media out there, the world may not need my writing.

But that’s not the point. I do this because I’m curious. Because I want to live, to create a thousand lives. I do this because I need my writing.

Want to read more from our Summer 2019 issue? Purchase your copy.

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