On Having to Write

I write because I have to.

HAVE to.


As someone with many writer friends, someone who reads countless articles about or by writers, who longs to embrace the writing life, I frequently come across this phase or something similar to it.

I am sure that, for some people, the sentiment rings true.

But I’m throwing off my Artist Cloak, right here, right now, and admitting to everyone that I, Julie C. Gardner, do not have to write.

Not even a little bit.

Sure, when I was a toddler, I scribbled in my baby book pretending to write stories.

Later, I kept journals and dreamed of becoming an author. (Elementary school diary entries reveal my desperate desire to trade places with Judy Blume and to marry Shaun Cassidy. Spoiler alert: neither one seemed interested in these opportunities.)

As an adult, I left a career with a steady paycheck to toss my hat into the literary ring, hoping it wouldn’t be trampled by a stampede of faceless rejection.

In short, I began writing with crayons and still write, forty years later, with a computer.  In my personal experience, Effort + Success – Failure =  Reality.

And reality sometimes bites, right Ethan Hawke?  Practically. Psychologically. A lot.

So why keep at it?

Good question.

Occasionally, I stumble across a poorly-written book and think, “If this guy can be in print, so can I!” Unfortunately, these experiences are more frustrating than tempting, as the siren’s call of someone else’s LOW BAR has proven to sustain me for brief bursts of time.

Eventually, I read something that is beautiful, smart, transcendent.  A real work of genius. That’s when I consider giving up. (By ‘eventually’ I mean every single day of my life.)

For some inexplicable reason, however, I wake up the next morning and greet the page again. In the face of other people’s brilliance. At the risk of my own failure. I march on.

(Believe me. I’m as surprised by this as you are.)

I limp along, persevering, although I do not have to. I wish I did. Being compelled to write by some undeniable force might make tackling the goal a little easier.

Because it’s hard to subject yourself to the emotional toll exacted by endless attempts; especially when conventional wisdom suggests you won’t succeed, or at least not in the ways you once imagined.

And it’s even harder to continue when your gut does not whisper this: “Psst……Julie….. Writing is life! The air you breathe! The passion in your heart and better half of your soul!”

My gut whispers, “Cheetos might be tasty. Or Fritos if that’s what’s left in the variety pack.”

So where does this confession leave me? Doomed to remain uninspired? Unmotivated?

With orange cheese dust on my fingers?

Maybe I am lucky that I do not have to write.

I write because I think I’m good at it and I’ve been encouraged from a young age to do so. Also, I enjoy the aftermath of having composed something decent.

Sometimes, I even want to write. But not even that often, if I’m being honest. 

If this makes me an outsider in the writer-world, so be it.

Either way, I keep stringing words together. One at a time.

Despite an inner-voice that dares me I to quit, I continue to make writing a major focus of my life. And along the way, I’ve  created a blog I love. Met friends who share my dream. (About writing. Not Shaun Cassidy. I think.)

I’ve completed three book-length manuscripts and have been published (more than once) and paid (more than once) for the words I write.

The process is painful and messy, joyous and hard; especially because, at the end of the day, I do not have to write.

But at the beginning of each day, I’m so glad that I can.

Last Modified on December 4, 2017
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30 thoughts on “On Having to Write

  1. You are such a talented writer, and I’m glad you dust off your cheese fingers to do it. I also hear that phrase A LOT and think about Cheetos more than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I SO relate to this. (Although, not so much the published part or the manuscripts)

  2. Kir

    the more I get to know you, the more I adore you. I have hung my head in shame for years thinking that I was just not a writer because I do “have to write”. I don’t have a compulsion, it’s more like a desire and sometimes the naps win and sometimes they keyboard does.

    I also have a very tiny but annoying voice that tells me (often) that I am not as good as “her” and “her” and of course “her”, so even when I have a good idea I hardly expound on it thinking I’ll never do it as well as someone else.

    The truth Julie. No I don’t have to write. I want to. I am constantly writing in my head, forming sentences and rolling words around my head hoping they touch someone if I decide to share them.

    thank you for sharing this, thank you for continuing to write (because it is your calling) and thank you for your support and love in my everyday life.


  3. Oh, Julie, I love your thoughts. Everyday. Or every time you post them. And you know what? I don’t have to either. But I feel more purposeful, more centered, more myself when I am engaged in the act of stringing words together in a fictional narrative.

    Sometimes it’s easier to say I have to, than to clarify the former to the masses. I am not compelled to write, but the thing than happens in my brain when the stories are dammed up? Not pretty. So, I choose to write them down, as life allows.

    The fact that people acquire and consume those stories still explodes my grateful heart every time.

  4. I love this admission, and I’m so glad to hear someone else say it. The times that I feel like I “have” to write are few and far between, and seem to be getting fewer and farther between. So that kinda freaks me out a little.

  5. It’s so difficult to avoid seeing & comparing oneself to the low bar, isn’t it? I mean, it’s absurd . . . I know I’m better than some published authors. But, I also know that “being a published author” can be seen as success = effort (talent + luck). I can be the most talented writer in the world (in truth, I think I’m good enough at penning a story), but I don’t know if I have the desire to make is so that I have to write. Because, at least for me, if I want to step out and say “I’m going to be a writer,” well, I have to have, at least, something to say “yep, this is what I’ve written.”

    All that said? I’m called to write . . . writing is a form of therapy for me. My brain is a very, very disorganized place. When I write, I put things into neat little places. So, I don’t need to write, but I am called to do so . . . and the difference may be mostly semantics, but it’s real.

  6. You kill me. Dead. With your smarts and your honesty.

    PS You HAVE to write because I HAVE to read what you’ve written. It’s just science.


  7. Di

    Although you don’t have to write and we don’t have to read; you love to write and we love to read what you love to write! Keep at it my dear friend and the day will come when I will be able to say, oh boy, I knew her when! XXXOOO

  8. I’m glad you choose to do so, even if it’s not a “need” in your life. After all, some of the “needs” I have are not particularly good for me: Cool Ranch Doritos are sometimes more of a need than my keyboard, but I feel much better after a decent writing session than a bag of Doritos. Most of the time 🙂 xo Your words are lovely, and I will keep reading as long as you keep stringing.

  9. Julie!! I am with 100%!! I do not “have to” write either. Actually, sometimes I think I would be so much happier if I just stopped.

    Then there’s this: “I write because I think I’m good at it and I’ve been encouraged from a young age to do so. Also, I enjoy the aftermath of having composed something decent.”

    YUP- I could have written that word for word. I’m not willing to give up that aftermath. Plus, I’m not really that good at anything else. 😉

  10. You raise a great question. Why ARE the fritos always the last ones left in the variety bag?

  11. You’re such an inspiration Julie. You can be proud that you pursued your passion and have achieved success–in so many ways. Keep it up!

  12. Nanny K

    Shaun Cassidy’s loss!! <3

  13. Sigh, I could have written this. Though not nearly as well (dammit). I do not have to write either, though sometimes I wish that I did. Because then perhaps I would actually do it. (Instead of you know, ANYTHING else – which is what I usually do.)

    I don’t know what I hate more about you – the fact that you remain so maddeningly skinny even with that Cheetos habit of yours or your superior use of the pen. Probably the latter. Good thing for both of us I love you so much more than I hate you. 🙂

    Oh, and if I happen to be one of those writer friends to which you are referring (I think I might be) I do in fact (or rather did) share that same Shaun Cassidy/Judy Blume dream.

  14. You are someone I think of when I think of someone who is a writer, not just a blogger. Keep writing. xo

  15. Ann

    I relate to this. I left acting because I didn’t HAVE TO ACT. I HAD to have a family, and had clarity about that. I’m so glad I don’t have to leave writing, because that’s up to me (as opposed to acting where you have audition to be able to do your job).

  16. Stephanie

    I wanted to marry Shaun Cassidy too! I even wrote him a letter, wore my best eight year old dress, and threw the letter to him at his concert. He never called.

  17. I do have to write because if I don’t, I will quit. Does that even make sense? It’s not my air or my life line, although in the past it has been my outlet and my way back to the world of the living. But the daily grind I force upon myself is so that I won’t give up entirely. I have given up on ALMOST everything else in my life, but not writing.

    And I like your words. You don’t have to write, but you do. You choose to write.

    Also? Reality Bites? Yes. Yes it does. “It’s Ok, Troy, Welcome to the maxi pad.”

  18. You don’t *have* to write, but I think your legions of fans WANT you to write. And I’m glad you do, even if Cheetos are distracting (they so ARE).

  19. Oh how I loved this!

    I’m not sure where I fall into the “world of writers”. I love writing. I hate writing. I feel better after having written. I feel worse when I don’t. It’s a strange siren call that niggles at my brain until I start typing. Yet, when the chips fall, I’m spent more time not writing than writing so is it something I “have” to do?

    I don’t know.

    But until I figure that out, I’ll keep going because if I stop, I have a nagging feeling something bad might happen. Or that could just be an undiagnosed mental illness. 🙂

  20. I, too, limp along (and possess Cheeto fingers). Support group? Jubilant high-five? (Glad you can, too.)

  21. –I’m glad you’re here, too, dear. I really am.
    I love your flowing VOICE))cheese fingers and all.
    & I know what you mean about GREAT authors. You know those kind…like Nabokov, Plath, & Harper Lee–And you say to yourself, “NO!! SHIT! I shall NEVER write like that.”
    And then you realize, dammit,
    I don’t need to!
    O, then don’t you get totally pissed off when a book like 50 Shades of Grey sell millions of copies!? E. L. James SUCKsssssssS.
    Great Post. xx

  22. That is a very lovely perspective. I am one of those people who says I have to write. But also, I am glad that I can. Lucky are we. Especially me, who gets to hang out with you every month IRL talking about writing, wringing our hands, wondering if we are good enough. I feel like I’m in such good company.

  23. Dolores Anderson

    Great words as always. Very interesting for a non-writer to read your thought process and get a chuckle too.

  24. You spoke my heart. But as someone who hasn’t made ANY progress on my novel (since I sent it to you) because life got in the way, and the pull of the characters got weaker and weaker until I wasn’t in love with the story anymore, I wonder if I even have the courage to face the blank page. I did today but only got one paragraph out before I realised that I have no idea what to write next in order to make it compelling. But still I march on. I just don’t know if I march on in fiction, or if I continue to blog and wait for the next non-fiction idea to strike.

    PS Love you

  25. Without this writing thing we dabble in, my world may have remained a little closed. But instead the beauty of the words shared, and the hearts and the souls I have come to know through my little corner of the blogosphere have blessed me beyond measure.
    And we ponder such great truths together, like David or Shaun, red or white … and my orange dust poison would be cheese curls – if you need to know.
    Plays havoc with my keyboard.

  26. I’m the one the eats the Fritos so they usually go first and then the keyboard is greasy but I blame it on the children. I love your thoughts and your dedication to writing and reading. I feel the NEED to write much less than I used to and I like to think that it’s because I worked through some of the hard stuff I was writing through but laziness could also be a factor.
    Love you and the way you share your words.

  27. Those last few sentences just slay me. Thank you for writing. Thank you for writing this.
    I’m glad you keep coming back to it and I am (somewhat) patiently waiting to hold one of your novels in my hands and read it.
    You are a words-together-stringer extraordinaire, Julie Gardner!

  28. Your compulsion to write and mine are at about the same strength – that is, I feel good when I do write, but I don’t twiddle my fingers at every baseball game and dance recital because I feel I’m wasting time by not writing.

    I’m so glad to be able to do it, too. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

    Oh, who am I kidding? I’d be here. Just a little quieter.

  29. Oh how I loved this. I want to say so much but I still have to pack, so I have to keep it short and tell you again how much I love this. I heart you, Julie.

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