“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.”
So writes Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, and she’s right, of course. Great writing, like any great art, has the ability to open one’s eyes anew to the powerful mysteries of existence. It helps one acquire “freshness of vision,” as Tolkien argues in “On Fairy Stories,” by revealing “that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you.”
However, I certainly don’t write in the expectation (or even, really, the hope) that I will one day have that effect on my readers. Why? I suppose because it feels arrogant on the one hand, and rather unrealistic on the other. I’ve resigned myself, more or less, to the improbability of ever becoming a great artist. I simply don’t have the temperament for it — that burning, all or nothing mentality that exists only to create. I don’t have the discipline, or the courage, to look life in the face, blazing with wakefulness, at all times and at all costs.
Rather, I often take the easier route. The route of least (or at least less) resistance. I allow my mind to sleep, and my heart to grow numb, because, frankly, it’s less painful to live that way.
All that to say, I find it unlikely that I will ever be a Virginia Woolf (even becoming a Stephenie Meyer seems unlikely at this point), and I have reconciled myself (mostly) to that fact. I leave that path to be tread by other feet, more diligent and talented than my own.
So why do I still write? Because, whether or not my writing will ever have the power to awaken others to the sacredness of the moment, it has the power to awaken me to that sacredness — to the holy mystery of my own ordinary, sleepy existence.
When I write, I am reminded that my world is gift, heavy with meaning. My vision is restored and I recover, maybe only for an instant, or as an echo, or the memory of an echo, the unbridled delight I once found in the breathtaking beauty of God’s world and the absurd wonder of existing within it. The triteness is shaken off, like so must dust, and I catch a glimpse of the Arkenstone underneath.
I become again the Chestertonian child, with joy so fierce that being told a door opened, or a brother laughed, or a father loved, or a mother danced is wealth of meaning quite enough for any lifetime — and certainly for mine.
In short, I write because it reminds me that all is gift, and grace, and the goodness of God. And as long as I am writing, I must be awake enough to perceive it.
So, for better or for worse, that’s me. What about you? Why do you find yourself writing?