The Writing Compulsion

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In compiling and selecting works for Shenandoah, I constantly wonder why people read fiction and especially why authors want to write fiction.  In considering this question, I turned to the words of fiction authors in order to understand their motivations for producing their works.  Toni Morrison, author of Home, the novel we reviewed for the magazine last semester, sums up the task of fiction writers quite perfectly: “the ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.”  Is fiction writing the ultimate challenge for writers, considerably more so than nonfiction?  Morrison relates fiction writing as a multifaceted trial for writers.


This process involves great imagination as well as the ability to make mundane ideas interesting and complex ideas relatable.  I believe that Morrison and many other authors write fiction for the sheer challenge it presents.  Ray Bradbury described the writing process in a more emotional sense: “the answer to all writing, to any career for that matter, is love.”  The key to writing and the desire to write is passion.

While I agree that omnipresent challenges and passion are inherent in writing fiction, I also believe that authors write fiction in order to reconcile their own experiences in reality as well as their imaginations.  Instead of writing non-fiction about their lives and the issues they have faced, they transcribe this reality into fantasy.  I also believe that this can be a form of escapism from reality.  For example, books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series provide an alternate world for readers, one of magical spells and castles.  However, the characters are youths facing the trials and tribulations that plague every teenager and young adult.  Rowling creates this fantastic realm while reconciling the true issues of morality, love, and relationships.  J.K. Rowling has said, “Sometimes the ideas just come to me.  Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come.  It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works.  I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.”  Like Bradbury, Rowling also describes writing as a deep-seeded desire: “I’ll be writing until I can’t write anymore.  It’s a compulsion with me.  I love writing.”

Unknown I agree with Rowling’s description of writing as a compulsion, or a craving.  As one of the most popular fiction writers of our generation, Rowling was driven to finish the wildly successful series.  She and other fiction writers reconcile reality with fantasy, appealing to the masses. They provide both an escape and a relatable tale for readers.

– Maddie Thorpe

About Madeline Thorpe

maddieMaddie Thorpe has twice served as a Shenandoah intern, once as Poem of the Week Editor and once as Social Networking Editor.  She is from Southern California and will take a degree in English from Washington and Lee in spring of 2014.

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3 Responses to The Writing Compulsion

  1. Ann Persons says:

    I think that your distinction between escapism and fantasy is important. I think that people often write off fantasy novels because of their magical or “weird” content, when in fact these fantastic elements are what make readers able to relate to the novels and learn from them.

  2. R.T. Smith says:

    Escapism and fantasy are certainly, as this excellent blog entry points out, strong contenders in the author (and reader) motive sweepstakes. I think another might be called “projection,” in which an author tries to create a story that engages his/her most crucial concerns in life, but tries to keep it as close to the recognizable and immediate world as possible without writing non-fiction. And we see where the fiction and non-fiction modes blend in novels like Mailer’s THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG and Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD. Personally, most of the time I want a recognizable world (even if set in the past) in which my speculative energies are channeled more toward the character motives and cultural implications and less toward whether or not someone can become invisible (though I had my invisibility moments at junior high dances quite enough to know how strong the physical vanishing can be as a metaphor for social disappearance, if the author knows that it’s a metaphor).

  3. Taylor McPherson says:

    The idea of compulsion is interesting because I feel like I’ve read a lot of authors ideas on the craft, and they always say they had to force themselves to sit down and write– Stephen King, for example, imposes rules about how much and how long he has to write for each day. I wonder if more prolific authors have to force themselves to write more frequently because it is expected of them. JKR certainly could afford to take a week-long hiatus if she wanted to.

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