The “Angelic Doctor,” Thomas Aquinas, talked a lot about causes, particularly the “efficient” cause—the cause which set off all the other causes and effects in the universe. Whenever we ask the question “why” the first word which inevitably springs to our lips is “because” i.e., here is the cause for the effect. Why is the grass green? Because of chlorophyll. Why do we do what we do? Because some of our actions are conditioned by trauma, others by instinct, and still others by discipline. I think you get the point now.
In lots of motivational reels and videos, coaching programs, podcasts, etc. we always hear about your “why.” Why do you want to do this? Why are you going down this path as opposed to some other path? Why? This is a good question and the original title for this blog was “The Great Why.” The intention was to make you think about why you write, why you practice what you practice when you write, and why you write the way that you write.
However, as I sat contemplating the “why,” Thomas Aquinas’ writings came to mind, and he didn’t necessarily ask about “why.” He asked about the “because.” Asking what your “because” is, while essentially the same as asking about your “why,” gives a slightly more nuanced approach to the question of “why.” We take “why” for granted in this new age of information overload. We take a lot for granted, true, but taking your “why” for granted is perilous. If you take your “why” for granted, you will become something you invariably do not want to be—or so the trope goes. How to overcome this? My answer it to know the “because.”
Writing was one of the best spaces for me to express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions without judgement or scorn.
The “because” is your answer to your “why.” “Because” implies that there is an impetus—a logical reason to why you are writing. You aren’t writing for no reason whatsoever—you are writing for a very specific, personal reason. This is the “because” of your writing and because it’s more personal, when you know it, you know yourself a little better. When you know yourself, it’s a lot harder for you to lose sight of the purpose behind your writing.
I divide the “because” into two causes: the “physical” cause for your beginning to write and the “emotional” cause. When I say “physical,” I don’t necessarily mean how you learned to form your letters. Rather, I am referring to specific events in your life which caused you to write.
Perhaps it’s because you have a creative spirit which takes that form of expression just as other people are naturally drawn to music, art, dance, math, etc. Perhaps it was the only way in which you could truly express yourself. Perhaps you were better suited to other forms of self-expression at one time, but those forms became no longer tenable. Whatever the reason, the “physical” cause is every bit as important as the “emotional” one. Let me explain.
Your “because” may change from project to project, from piece to piece, or even from day to day.
I can remember a time when my preferred mode of self-expression wasn’t writing—it was dancing. That ended abruptly when an ankle injury I’d sustained one year started playing up and the inadequacies of the medical treatment I’d received started to make themselves known. Around the same time, my depression started to sink in. I became more and more withdrawn from everything and everyone. I took to journaling to express my feelings and it was one of my few escapes. Reading was the other one. I started to find home life and social life repressive in the extreme and I felt like I had no escape from anything—least of all myself.
Writing was one of the best spaces for me to express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions without judgement or scorn. It was quiet, it was supremely private, and there was some satisfaction in the way the pen glided across the paper. I was in my teens and the gel pen craze had just hit. Brightly colored gel ink which wrote smoother than the cheap ballpoints and dark-colored paper were all the rage. I had a particular love of how the ink came out smooth and bold. Even today, I still use bold pens with which to write.
This was the physical cause for me starting to like writing—my initial “because.” I started loving writing about classic literature in high school but didn’t become truly confident in it until college. I sat under professors who taught me a lot of the same techniques I’ve covered in other posts. That was when I really started to love writing—another “because.” Moreover, I got feedback on my opinions—good feedback and it was encouraging. It felt good to be understood and appreciated by others for what I thought and felt about a particular period in history or a particular opinion on a poem. It was something I didn’t have before, and I craved it.
More recently, my physical “because” is I was at a crossroads in my life where I had to decide which course to take. I’d gone through an extended period of overwork, burnout, and ultimately just not being happy in the work I was doing. So, I started this blog. I chose a course I’d had in mind for a while but one which would allow me to potentially find work as a writer in other fields whether as an authoress, a blogger, technical writer, copywriter, etc. This is the most common, I think of all the physical reasons for writing—making a living. Mine was making a living without making myself miserable. I have a chronic tendency to overwork myself—typical symptom of not having any boundaries with myself or others—and I wanted an alternative path to both provide for myself and stay happy and healthy.
Asking what your “because” is, while essentially the same as asking about your “why,” gives a slightly more nuanced approach to the question of “why.”
Now, your “emotional” cause is a lot easier to discern because it’s usually what you associate with your writing if you are a true creative at heart. It’s the compulsion to write when a character sketch comes into your head, or you see an interesting character on the street and wonder where they’re going, what they’re doing, or what their motivations are for what they are doing. It’s the “muse” which inspires you, or the difference you want to make in the world. It’s the satisfaction of having unburdened yourself to something when you’re feeling overwhelmed with despair, frustration, anger, happiness, longing, joy, beauty, etc.
My emotional causes have ranged. I wrote my senior thesis (available for you to view under “Writing Portfolio”) because Hamlet had literally saved my life and this paper was my tribute—my thanks. Oddly enough, in writing my senior thesis, I inadvertently set myself up for success for another one of my classes (that paper is also available for you to view.). The two dove-tailed so nicely, I think there was a little emotion from my thesis behind writing that paper for my final in Native American Literature as well.
For the blog, I have my own “causes” for writing as well. The blog’s overall topic—classic literature was born from a life-long love of the classics and from a desire to see those classics once again become by-words in society. I knew, from my own experience, the value of reading Shakespeare, Dante, and Jane Austen. I knew the effect works like theirs had not only on my mood, my thought process, my worldview, my entire life. Shakespeare has been one of the most influential people in my life—and he’s been deceased over 500 years now.
If you notice, the “emotional” causes are sometimes only partly based in the self. It may come from a desire for self-gratification, but there’s an element of giving back too. For my school papers, it was almost an empty gesture—I was giving back to a character who only existed on the pages of a book and a writer who had been long dead before I was ever born.
For the blog, it is a way of helping others to see what I see in the pages of the great works of the past. I want others to be able to get the happiness and the satisfaction I’ve been able to get—whatever their background, age, education, etc. That was my biggest “because” of them all—I love these works deeply and unashamedly and I want to share what I see with the rest of the world. Not because I think my vision is the definitive one, but because I myself have experienced the world of good these works can do not only to your worldview, but to your emotional and mental health as well.
When you know yourself, it’s a lot harder for you to lose sight of the purpose behind your writing.
Your “because” may change from project to project, from piece to piece, or even from day to day. Some days, your “because” may be that the piece you are working on will be what helps pay your bills next week. Other days, it may be that your piece is what you are truly passionate about. Still others, as in the case of my own novels, your “because” is that you have created characters you love and respect, and you want them to have their chance in the world.
Whatever your “because” is for writing, know it, own it, and keep it ever before you. Without knowing your “because” asking “why” is pointless. Knowing “why” is pointless. For some of us, asking “why” may not even be a question we can answer—I know I’m in that category. Not everyone can answer “why” they write. But I can almost guarantee we all have some knowledge deep down what the “because” of our writing may be. What causes you to write? Is it your creative passion? Is it the change you want to see in the world? Is it the personality you’ve created on paper? Is it for love of the subject? If you don’t know, then take the time for some self-discovery and find out. Know who you are and why you write. You may even discover a part of yourself you thought was lost. That has certainly been the case for me, and I hope it is the same for you too.