January 13th, 2018

Over the years I’ve learned of dozens of reasons why writers write, but Siddhartha Mukherjee’s may be one of the most unusual. Writing in Two hours writing, then a researcher knocks on the door with a pipette for The Guardian’s My Writing Day series, Mukherjee explains:

Why do I write? Or why, for that matter, do some doctors write? Some of us write to bear witness. Some of us tell stories. Zadie Smith once said that the very reason she writes is so that she “might not sleepwalk through my entire life”. On some particularly grim days, I think that I write to induce sleepwalking.

I think what Mukherjee is talking about when he says he writes to induce sleepwalking is what Robert Olen Butler, Walter Mosley and George Simenon call entering the dream.

Deeper in his essay I think he finds a deeper, truer reason for his prose;

My single rule for writing is the same as my rule for science. You cannot know the answer if you don’t know the question. Before I write anything, I ask myself: what is the question that I am trying to answer? When I read a novel, or encounter a poem, or a painting, I will ask myself: what question is the painting, or the novel, trying to answer? This drives my wife and children mad—there are days when the kids refuse to go to museums with me—but it works as a guide to my writing practice. Orwell? He’s trying to answer whether we can build a moral world out of fundamentally immoral people. Sacks: can you inhabit the minds of others who are extraordinarily different from you?

I really like what he says about Orwell. I’ll keep that in mind for my year of reading deeply.

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