By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 28, 2015
Why do we write? Most of us, if we’re honest, probably can’t answer that question.
That’s not a bad thing.
What I mean is, the reasons that compel us as artists to do the work we do are often (if not always) so deep and so hidden that we’re kidding ourselves if we claim we can name them or understand them.
If you’re a writer, you’re compelled to write. Just like a dancer has “gotta dance” or a singer has to sing.
I believe in destiny. Each of us is unique, I believe, and every one of us was put here for a reason. That destiny lives inside us. It has been there from birth, and maybe (probably) before that. We can’t see it, we can’t touch it, we can’t measure it. But we can feel it.
It’s our daimon. Our genius. Our calling.
But what’s behind this compulsion? What produces it?
Is there some Supreme Consciousness somewhere? A Grand Plan? Has each of us been assigned a part in some mysterious (to us) cosmic design?
Is the human being compelled to understand herself, or at least to try?
Why are so many stories (if not all stories) about self-discovery and self-revelation?
The hero starts out blind to her truth and winds up awake to it, or at least to part of it. The ending may be happy, it may be tragic, it may be sadder-but-wiser. But one way or another, the process of living through the story reveals truth, uncovers character.
Who are we?
Who am I?
Who are you?
If you’re an artist, I believe, you find that out over time by the works you produce. What comes out of you tells you who you are and what your calling is.
I don’t know if it’s true for others but for me, the stuff I’ve written has always popped out as a surprise to me. I never anticipated any of it. There was no scheme or script, no five-year plan.
An idea seized me and I was compelled to write it. Almost always the subject matter was something I knew nothing about at the start and didn’t even know I cared about. In truth I didn’t care about it. Until I got into it. Then I became possessed by it.
I discovered, each time, not so much that I “knew” the subject but that I was powerfully predisposed toward it. I had an aptitude for understanding it. It felt natural. I felt at home.
Who sent these ideas to me?
Why was I so compatible with them?
Did some intelligence pick me to produce these specific works? What intelligence? Is it something inside me?
Are all forms of sentient life compelled to ask and answer, “Who am I? What is the meaning of my life?” Is that our overriding obsession, yours and mine, beyond even survival and procreation?
Or is that compulsion specific to artists?
Do you and I live more than one lifetime?
If it were possible to chart all our incarnations back-to-back, would the flow indicate some single dominating theme? Do Bob Dylan’s songs pick up, in some way, from his work or deeds in some previous appearance here on the planet?
Is he working toward something?
Is there a purpose?
We’re all conscious, I believe, of some force beneath the surface of things. A theme of a number of my fictional pieces, particularly those set in the ancient world, is the idea of Necessity.
Necessity, as I define it in these pieces, is the future. It is That Which Will Be. That Which Must Be.
The politician and the general serve the future in one way, the mother serves it in another. You and I as artists serve it too.
Do we know why?
Am I deluding myself to even entertain this notion?
Then why am I compelled—I mean really compelled—to write what I write? Why are you?
What force is propelling us?
In the end, I can’t say why I write. I don’t know. I know if I don’t write it (or at least try to), I’m miserable.
Who’s running the show here?
Am I at the mercy of my daimon?
Is that a bad thing or a good thing?
I don’t know.