Why I Write: The Dreamer’s Defense

Formal Cause: I tell the truth through stories, usually historical fiction, fantasy, or non-fiction. I am firmly convinced that stories are one of the best ways of teaching the truth. At the same time, in typical contradictory fashion, I dislike most stories whose aim is to teach a lesson. If you’re going to preach a sermon, preach a sermon; if you’re going to tell a story, tell a story. Short stories may be part of sermons as illustrations, and a good story will have a point and meaning, but don’t mix the two. I don’t care for most allegories. A good story (and don’t bother reading or telling the bad ones) will have truth in it without some moral being tacked on or stressed at some point. Some of the best books written even by Christian authours don’t have a single sermon in them. I’ll say a word, if I may, about non-fiction. Fiction does not equal lies or falsehood — it can be just as true as, if not truer than, fact. In the same way non-fiction is not necessarily truer than fiction. I know of some people who won’t read, or let their children read, any fiction because it isn’t “true”. I also know of many people who don’t like to read non-fiction because they think it’s boring. A great deal is. Some people, who only knew I write fiction, when they hear that I’m currently in the middle of a non-fiction story, say something like, “Why do you have to write about that?” as if non-fiction were not worth as much as fiction, or were in same way less of a story. But know this: that life is a story, written by the best Authour of them all.

Material Cause: Writers are artists whose medium is words. With words, as opposed to paint or wood or metal or clay or other forms of art. The general public does not seem to think of writers as artists. I’m not sure why. Granted, you can’t really have an art gallery of a writer’s works in the normal way — if you do, it should be called a library — and taking pictures of them at work is far from exciting. The writing process is not as photogenic as, say, painting. We’re not (unless things go terribly wrong or unexpectedly right) very audible at our work, unlike musicians. A lot of us hate performing in person, which might be part of the reason we chose what can be a very solitary craft. We appear insane to those who aren’t well-acquainted with the way our minds work — and even, I daresay, even to some who are. Perhaps we are a little strange. Some of us research poisons on behalf of our antagonists. Some of us admit to having killed certain characters with mixed grief and exultation. I often talk to myself. We’re paranoid about losing our work, because we know that though we can rewrite what we’ve lost, it won’t be the same, and we’re unsure that it will be better. We struggle with having to explain to people that when the words start flowing you can’t turn them off; it’s not as if it’s a light with an on/off switch. We look at glorious sunsets and our first thought is, “What word could you use to describe that exact shade of purple?” in much the same way that painters look at the same sight and wonder about mixing pigments (or whatever it is painters think about). We’re crazy, but even in our craziness we’re saner than the ones who go through life never waking up to the wonder and complexity of it all. 

Efficient Cause: Ultimately my ideas come from God. I can never tell exactly where an idea comes from at the moment, I only know that I have it, though often with some inkling of the thing that started the thought or feeling, yet acknowledging that it might only be the idea’s cause per accidens. I think all my ideas come in the end from God. He made us in His image, so we have the desire to make things too (sub-creation). He created objects in the beginning of the world, and we sculpt things or carve things; He created living things, and some people are very good parents and have a deep desire for children; He gave us speech and language, and gave us a Book from which to learn about Him, and some people write. Sometimes I think, only half-jokingly, that if writers were a holy order, they would have a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. The chief differences between our creation and His are that He can create from nothing and we can’t; and He created things perfect, and we can’t. Everyone, being made in His image, will have some desire to create, to make, to shape; and it will manifest itself in different forms. Some, I admit, create more after the fashion of Melkor. 

Final Cause: Ad majorem Dei gloriam. At the time of my writing, I write because I have an idea that won’t let me go. Either it threatens to burst my head, or it sends tingling all the way to my fingertips because it’s trying to break out. I write to relieve the struggle. I also write because people beg me to tell their story, and they can get very annoyed if I refuse. And mostly I don’t want to refuse, because we are friends, and when I know their story I know it’s worth telling. But the real “that for the sake of which”, the real end of my my writing, is ad majorem Dei gloriam. It’s simple, but it’s easy to forget sometimes that when I write, imitating my Maker, I am glorifying Him. There are days when my worlds are such a mess I wonder if I accidentally started evolution by making the primordial soup of my universe. (I’m also pretty sure that writing a world that started by evolution isn’t a good way to portray the truth.) But that’s what revision is for.

In its shortest form, my answer to the question, “Why do you write?” is, “God gave me words and stories by which to tell His truth for His glory.”


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