Why We Write

During World War II, famous Hollywood director Frank Capra made a series of American propaganda movies entitled Why We Fight. This post addresses Why We Write, and more specifically, why I write here at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. 

Be the truth known, I was created to work as a professional writer or journalist. My English teacher identified it without question during my freshman year in high school, but Gallatin Senior High School in Gallatin, Tennessee, pushed its students to concentrate their energies on science and mathematics so we could become technological warriors on the front lines of battle against the Soviet Union.  As a result of that, I was set on the road to a career in science, in my case American archaeology and environmental science.  Nonetheless, the impulse to write and write well was always within me, and it has helped me more than you might imagine throughout my scientific career. For example, when I joined the full-time scientific workforce in 1982, my employers quickly tagged me as the “guy in the office who can write really, really, really well and clean up the writing of our other employees.”  It put me in high demand, and companies were willing to pay big bucks for the guy who could do the science, write like Steinbeck, and edit like the people at Alfred A. Knopf.  Consequently, despite the science, the impulse to write has always found expression in my life in one way or another.

A friend of mine in North Carolina, Pastor John Pavlovitz, has a new post about writers and writing on his Christian faith blogI have reblogged it below for my readers because it is on target about my own impulse to write about archaeology and related matters on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog.  If you are interested in that at all, then hang on every word in John’s article.

Thank You for Bleeding: A Letter to Writers


John Pavlovitz

There’s something all writers know, something that those who don’t write will never truly understand:

To write, is to bleed.

The act of regularly opening yourself up in full view of an army of strangers is choosing to be exposed; to consent to have one’s unprotected innards trespassed upon and rooted through. This vulnerability comes at a great personal price, one that is never really ever repaid. The writer is always in the red.

Though the discipline of writing is one that usually begins in solitude, its evolution is quite the opposite. In the quiet places one bravely breaks open the contents of his or her heart and chooses to share them publicly, not knowing the reception they will receive after they leave the safety of secret. Once outside of the protected confines of one’s head, their every syllable is scrutinized and dissected, parsed and poured over.

Most writers tend to be a confounding collection of paradoxes, having enough vanity to believe their words are worth reading, yet wildly insecure in the offering. They fiercely covet silence but find intoxication in the crowd’s embrace. They are at once bodily prophetic and startlingly fragile. They are hopelessly compelled to create, while fully terrified in the process.

Writing itself is a delicate, volatile mix of sweat and magic. At times the creative process is arduous work and at other times it is an effortless dance. Some days the words are hard-won in bloody battle and others they are easily received, gift-wrapped from the heavens.

Yet no matter how many times they craft something beautiful or meaningful or valuable, most writers live with the ever-present fear that this will be the last time it ever happens. They spend their days feeling like an unworthy lover, certain that their beloved Muse will leave them at any moment, never to return. To write, is to hope the best words are still within you, but to feel without a doubt that they have surely passed.

The writer’s medium is a palette of simple words and yet these words are not come by simply. In every waking moment (and often in dreams and in nightmares), the creative soul searches incessantly for language to speak of things and ideas and feelings where words largely fail all of us. And yet with that deck stacked well against them, the writer continues to flail and fret and wrestle, hoping at the end of it all to have something worthy of the fight; something to say that is worth hearing.

My heroes have always been the poets, the ones who find the rhyme and the song in this life. They take the massive, grand, unwieldy things of the world and make them small enough to hold in one’s hand, and yet they unearth in the most intimate, ordinary moments, treasures of stunning grandeur to be revered.

Most writers don’t write because they must have something to say, but because they have something that they must say. To be silent would be to be disobedient. It is not a choice made, but a burden carried, a calling embraced.

To those who write and create, those who labor in the scalding, urgent crucible of the heart and who dare to speak so that others may hear more clearly, thank you.

Thank you for every new battle you fight with a blank page or an empty screen.

Thank you for risking criticism and condemnation and misunderstanding and attack.

Thank you for overcoming the voices from within and without that tell you to stop.

Thank you for the way you narrate the days we walk through so that we are more attentive or grateful or present in them.

Thank you for bringing clarity, for mending wounds, for lighting dark places, for inciting laughter, for inviting justice.

Thank you for sitting in the secret again, and for once more baring yourself so that others might see themselves more fully.

Most of all, thank you for bleeding.

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