Creative Writing: Why We Write Stories
The more I wrote the more of a human being I became— Henry Miller
Why is that? For one thing, life itself can be viewed as a story, one we weave that is in effect how we view the world and our experiences.
The brain is wired to think in terms of stories. When we write, the creative process helps us to tap into the reservoir of our memories and emotions. These can be story-doctored into a coherent narrative. A well-told story has the capacity to help us experience the human condition vicariously. From that place, it helps us to make sense and create meaning out of life.
As we tell our stories, we also inspire others who need to hear our stories. In some ways, as many authors have said, all stories are somewhat autobiographical. This means they emerge from our personal psychology.
In the book Why We Write, edited by Edith Maran, many well-known authors have expressed their reasons for writing. They talk about an almost magical absorption they experience when they are involved in writing. Terry McMillan said, “Writing feels like being in love. I am consumed by the characters I’m writing about. I become them. It’s refreshing, like running a few miles, the way you feel when you finish.”
One of the primary reasons people give for creative writing is a desire to express themselves. Writing about something is a very different experience than talking about it. There is a lot of research spearheaded by James Pennebaker who wrote Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others that shows how writing our thoughts and feelings and linking them to stressful or difficult experiences, as opposed to just venting or talking about them, can be a healing experience.
While this can be viewed as being like journaling, creative writing is a different form of expression as it pulls material from our personal experience, but also transforms it into a story conforming to the classic tenets of story structure. As Aristotle said in his groundbreaking book Poetics, drama is all about evoking the emotions of empathy and fear in the reader. It creates and resolves conflicts, offering hope and inspiring people.
If we have certain fears, then other people probably do too and will want to read about how our fears were overcome and resolved. As the protagonist in the story experiences the character arc from the trials and tribulations, in writing it so do we.
According to one study, the reasons authors write are: to express our feelings, to help others, to educate, to give pleasure, to create passion, and because it is therapeutic. I’ve found that writing opens amazing opportunities to research things that interest me and thus to write about things that are provocative and emotionally captivating to me.
I’ve found that creative writing can be a form of narrative therapy. It helps me to understand myself and others. People who read a lot tend to rank higher on the empathy scale than those who do not. We can say the same for those who write stories. We are all living life by self-selecting a narrative; for each of us it is my interpretation of “me.” Writing helps us to learn more about who we are.
The goal of creative writing is to identify what we are passionate about and find the story idea with which we have a strong emotional connection. Stay tuned for my book The Creative Writer’s Way.
If you are a writer, please share why you write. If and you would like to write creatively, please share what is holding you back.