Why do you write?

“You just want attention.”

Recently I had the misfortune of interacting with someone who claimed my “desire for attention” was the reason I write. In context, the suggestion that I “wanted attention” was an unflattering description; it was framed as being childish, needy, silly, and narcissistic to “want attention” for my work. And it was also suggested that I write as a substitute for “real” human interaction.

Whew! A lot to unpack from that, huh?

Most of what that person said was so ignorant and pointlessly oversimplified that I just didn’t care and remained mildly irritated but mostly just baffled. Really? It’s only immature attention-mongering desires and inability to interact “normally” that can explain why I write? And enjoying when someone likes my work or benefits from it is evidence of self-centeredness or a poorly conceived attempt at a social interaction substitute?

It struck me to wonder after I was faced with this question, though: Hey, why do I write, anyway?

Because I have ideas.

That’s pretty much it.

I had an idea. I wrote it down. I liked writing it down. I like making stuff up.

I like creating worlds. I like creating characters. I like the actual experience of writing. I like entertaining myself with the stories. I’ve gotten ideas for things since I was a tiny child. I didn’t even show the majority of them to anyone at all, though some of them got shown to parents or friends. I just like writing stuff.

But then there’s another layer of enjoyment from sharing a story, sure. If I’ve written something and I entertained someone or they learned a lesson from it or they got valuable information from it or it helped them feel less alone, that’s great. It’s not what motivated me to write, but I’m not going to say positive feedback and knowing I helped someone is irrelevant.

I do think it’s VERY disingenuous to claim that if I appreciate good feedback or like feeling that I helped someone, it’s therefore a hobby I engage in because I’m needy and I have to do this to feel fulfilled.

Not to mention that if writing was the one way I could access approval and self-worth, who the hell would you be to tell me it’s inauthentic, mock-worthy, or pathetic? If something that makes you feel good, needed, productive, or happy is working well for you, it seems kind of mean-spirited and even vindictive to barge into someone’s life and tell them they’re not doing life right. This is irrelevant to me because I do not write for those reasons, but coping mechanisms are a thing, especially for people who are sensitive or have particular needs. There’s no reason to say people who do write because they enjoy the attention and approval they get should be torn away from it through belittling comments about how that person should be striving toward fulfillment. Especially if you’re not a writer and you don’t understand what could be rewarding about it.

It’s just so gross to imagine that anyone out there wants to characterize something like writing as a cry for help from a desperate person who wants “empty” attention, or that people like this want to shame people who have different or less-than-perfect coping methods. What exactly is so bad about attention? Why is it so frequently categorized as vapid or even pathological to want something you do to get attention?

Actually, don’t assholes also frequently make fun of people who don’t get attention (or the “right” kind of attention), characterizing you as a social failure or a hilarious loner regardless of whether you desire whatever is considered a “normal” amount of social contact? (Because if you’re not very social and you’re fine with that, they’ll still assume you would be interacting with friends more than you do if you had any, and make fun of you for not having enough friends or not being likable.) I can’t even tell you how often people see that I like to read and write and do things on the computer and react to my choices with “HAHAHAH IT’S FUNNY THAT SHE PRETENDS SHE’D RATHER BE HOME READING THAN OUT AT THE CLUB, BUT SHE DOESN’T WANT TO ADMIT THAT SHE’S TOO AWKWARD OR WOULD BE EMBARRASSED AT HOW NO ONE WANTS TO HIT ON HER ETC.” You know, because if I actually do want to spend the evening at home, I’m making excuses because I know I would fail at being coveted and popular in a social setting. What I get from this is you’re supposed to flourish from getting attention, but you’re never supposed to be seen deliberately doing anything that suggests you want it.

I think it’s pretty cool when people like what I’ve written. I don’t do it because I’m desperately hungry for their attention and have nothing else worthwhile to live for in my life, no. But writing things people like and appreciating it when people like them is not ridiculous.

I can certainly think of some worse ways to spend one’s hours on the planet. Particularly, spending a bunch of time criticizing how others spend THEIR time.

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