Why Authors Write

A friend (another author) sent me the URL of a web site of The New York Times called Author’s Note so that I could read the thoughts of another writer about why we write. I was so struck with his words that I quote them here for you:

Author’s Note

By JAMES ATLAS FEB. 10, 2017

. . . I published my first book, a biography of Delmore Schwartz, almost 40 years ago. It, too, will soon begin its long journey to oblivion. I can imagine the stages: from that fabled used-books emporium the Strand to the remainder shelf of a secondhand book shop in a Maine resort town to the “de-acquisition” bin of a public library in Iowa to the bookshelves, if I’m lucky, of a country inn.

Is that such an ignominious fate? I didn’t write my books for posterity (not that posterity would have cared): I wrote them for myself. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t hunger for readers and fame. I never could have endured so much hard, solitary labor without the prospect of an audience. But this graveyard of dead books doesn’t unnerve me. It reminds me that I had a deeper motive, one that only the approach of old age and death has unlocked. I wrote to answer questions I had — the motive of all art, whatever its ostensible subject. There were things I urgently needed to know. Why did Schwartz, the most promising poet of his generation, end up dying at the age of 52 in a fleabag hotel in Midtown Manhattan? Why did my next (and last) biographical subject, Saul Bellow, tear up his life to feed his fiction, marrying five times, tormenting himself and others, finding in his self-inflicted suffering the elixir of his art? And what traumas buried within myself was I trying to unearth by spending decades on their stories? It wasn’t the hope of immortality that goaded me to write: It was obsession.

End of quote. I couldn’t have said it better.

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