Why I Write

An Essay By Mary // 4/30/2009

“I love the writing life,” was the last sentence I wrote in my journal before I went to sleep last night. And it’s absolutely true – most of the time. Of course, if you flip back through the earlier pages of my journal, you’ll find at least three or four entries declaring my complete frustration and disgust with writing and everything pertaining thereunto. Those entries are absolutely true as well. Which made me start thinking: if I really love writing, why do I get so frustrated with it? If I really hate it, why do I devote so much time and energy to it? Why do I love something so infuriating? Why do I hate something I love so much?

It reminds me of a conversation that my dad had with a friend not too long ago. My family owns a few hundred acres, on which we raise beef cattle. Now, if you go to the grocery and look at beef, you’ll notice that even hamburger is outrageously expensive. One of my dad’s friends recently commented on this, adding “You beef farmers must be making out like bandits!” (Which could be a whole essay in itself – “Common Misconceptions About Farmers”)
Dad gave his friend a weary smile and replied, “Actually, cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in years.”
His friend looked shocked. “But beef prices are so high!” he insisted.
Dad shook his head. “That has nothing to do with it.”
“Well why do you do it if there’s no money in it?”
Dad thought for a minute and shrugged. “It’s what I’ve always done, and it’s what I love to do.”
Ask my dad, and he’ll tell you that farming is very much a love/hate relationship. Few things in life are as satisfying as watching the sun set over a pasture dotted with newly rolled hay bales. But few things in life are as infuriating as chasing a whole herd of ungrateful beasts out of the winter hay when they have an entire field of perfectly good grass to eat. Few things are as wonderful as a hot dinner of steak, home-made bread, and vegetables grown in your own garden. But few things are as maddening as chasing said steak out of said vegetable garden (which is probably why she ended up on your plate in the first place).
And yet in spite of all of this – even after a night of delivering a baby calf in the middle of a hail storm, even after spending six weeks rebuilding the fences taken out by a flood, even after being chased around the pasture and up a fence by an angry momma cow – Dad still keeps farming.
Because he loves it.
For Dad, the moment spent admiring the field of hay bales is worth the hour it takes to chase the cows out of the hay and repair the fence. Seeing a herd of new babies laying on a hillside soaking up the sunshine is worth standing in the rain for three hours just to get one of those babies into this world.
That’s why he does it.
And that’s why I do what I do. Writing is as much a love/hate relationship as farming. There is nothing more thrilling than opening a letter that reads: “We are pleased to inform you that we enjoyed your work very much and would like to use it in our magazine.” But few things are as discouraging as a professionally polite: “We regret to inform you that we cannot use your submission.”
There is nothing as wonderful as lying awake at night, mentally rereading an acceptance letter: “We found your poem to be charming, and we would love to see more of your work.” There are few things as miserable as lying awake at night, wondering: “Why can’t they use my submission? Is it just because they have too much material right now? Or is it because it’s really no good?”
When someone learns that I am a writer, there is nothing more flattering than to hear them say “Really? Oh, I would love to read some of your work!” and nothing more aggravating than to hear them say “Oh. That’s nice. When are you going to get a real job?”
There is nothing as satisfying as dropping into bed at three in the morning after finishing a brilliant story or poem, knowing that it’s your best work yet, knowing that you got it “just right”. And there is nothing as anguishing as dragging yourself to bed in utter defeat after searching for four hours for the right sentence and not finding it.
And yet I still keep doing it – even when the mailbox and the inbox have presented me with a stack of “We regret to inform you”s, even when the dictionary might as well be written in Chinese for all the good it’s doing, even when my entire cast of characters is misbehaving and refusing to do anything I tell them to do – I still keep doing it.
Because I love it. Because the thrill of one acceptance letter is worth the disappointment of dozens of rejections. Because the joy of getting one sentence “just right” is worth the agony of an entire page of mediocre sentences. Because one person’s heartfelt comment of “This was really good” on apricotpie is worth a hundred smug smiles and “Oh, that’s nice, dear”s.
Because knowing that my pen brought joy to one heart is worth every heartache that my pen has ever brought to me.

That is why I can pick up my journal at the end of the day and write with total honesty:

“I love the writing life.”



Amazing essay. I'm glad you keep picking up that pen, even when things get frustrating--'cause then the rest of us get to read your stuff!

The parallels between farming and writing were "spot on." --no stretching required.

Abbie | Thu, 04/30/2009

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't." ~Pelonius in "Hamlet"

Well "This was really good".

Well "This was really good". I don't think the comparison is stretching it at all...I thought it was a particularly good comparison. And I know what you are talking about when you fall in bed with frustration. Sometimes I'll be writing a poem and trying to think of a rhyme until the moment I've gone to sleep. What's even more frustrating is when I forget it all the next morning. But I'm sure even Shakespeare fell into bed cursing the day he thought of a certain sonnet. Oh well, if writing weren't hard work, then it would be of no value.

"Now you've heard of the French Nation, and the British Nation....Well this, is the Imagin Nation." Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

The Brit | Thu, 04/30/2009

Mary, this is one of the

Mary, this is one of the best pieces on writing itself I have ever read. I love your comparison between farming and writing; I don't think you stretched it at all!! I think all writers have a love/hate relationship with what they do. Perhaps it's the same with every single person, no matter what their occupation [and, needless to say, I am thoroughly annoyed with the person, who, after hearing you were a writer, asked if you were "going to get a real job?" :D]. I love farming. Personally, my family has never farmed, but just from horse-sitting, and visiting and walking around farms makes me want to be a farmer myself. There is something beneath all the blood, sweat, and tears [and cow manure :P], something peaceful and content. Just the idea of growing your own food is...happy. It's the same with writing. Like you said, just producing something beautiful out of your own God-inspired heart and mind--even if it's something small--is enough to tip the scales. It's so satisfying.

Well, that was one of the longest comments I think I've written!! Sorry if I rambled too much, but really all I wanted to say was that I understand completely, I love love LOVE your essay, and you're a stupendous writer. :)

If I disappear, and you cannot find me, please don't worry.
Just be sure to check all the wardrobes.

Clare Marie | Thu, 04/30/2009

"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]

Right on.

Exactly. And it's worse for writers with tempremental characters,.
The Word is alive/and it cuts like a sword through the darkness
With a message of life to the hopeless/and afraid...

~"The Word is Alive' by Casting Crowns

May my words be a light that guides others to the True Light and Word.

Julie | Fri, 05/01/2009

Formerly Kestrel

Wow. Thanks, you guys. And

Wow. Thanks, you guys. And I mean that. I'm glad I was able to get my idea across, and it's good to know that you all can identify. And thanks for all the compliments. Consider yourselves hugged!

I don't want to spend my whole life asking: "What if I had given everything instead of going through the motions?"
~Matthew West

Mary | Sat, 05/02/2009

Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!


Yup, I feel just the same way. Great essay! I think the whole love/hate relationship we writers feel toward writing is what makes it interesting, and in the end it's satisfying to look back and see how much work it took to make that poem or story as good as it can be, and to know you gave it your all. I always tell my mom: "I don't think I'll write the next huge book and make a million dollars... but if one person, one complete stranger, reads it and enjoys it, then it was worth it."
You've definitely captured that feeling in this essay. :) Great job.
** ** ** ** ** **
"But I don't have any rhymes inside me. Just some salami and provolone."
--Binky Barnes

Hannah W. | Tue, 05/05/2009


And one heart-tugging essay by Mary is worth all the mundane forum threads, news stories, and failed compostitions of my own.
Thanks Mary - this is awesome.


"Imagine long, smile much, laugh often."

LoriAnn | Tue, 05/05/2009

Great Essay! I know exactly

Great Essay!
I know exactly what you mean: about a year and a half ago, I was writing a story. I had been working on it for probably a year, and I almost gave up many times. I seriously thought about it. Yes, I love and hate writing a whole lot of times, but the 'loving it' part always wins out.

I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun
rising; not only because I see it, but because by it I see all things- C.S.Lewis

Laura Elizabeth | Wed, 05/06/2009

The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --


That's The Ticket!

As a young lady just getting back into the habit of writing every day, I cannot tell you how helpful it was for me to read this. My first love has always been traditional art (and probably always will be), but lately I have discovered within myself this need to write. It took me by surprise, really. When I finally sat down with a piece of paper and started brainstorming, I realized how much I had missed out on by neglecting the craft. At the same time, I realized how hard I would have to work to be able to express myself as I desire.
So thank you for writing this piece of inspiration! So good to know I'm not the only one who has this wonderful "complex". :)

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
— Dr. Seuss

"The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with."

Raen | Fri, 06/12/2009

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
— Dr. Seuss

"The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with."


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