I'm sure I must have talked about Joy Williams' "Why I Write" more than once here, but I can't help bringing it up again, especially now that there's a podcast of her reading the full text at last year's Tin House Summer Conference. She sounds incredibly present here, and at some point along the way, ideas transmute into something else. Music is the only word I can think of.
The writer must not really know what he is knowing, what he is learning to know when he writes, which is more than the knowing of it. A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light. The writer is separate from his work but that’s all the writer is – what he writes. A writer must be smart but not too smart. He must be reckless and patient and daring and dull – for what is duller than writing, trying to write? And he must never care – caring spoils everything. It compromises the work. It shows the writers’ hand.
The writer doesn’t want to disclose or instruct or advocate, he wants to transmute and disturb. He cherishes the mystery, he cares for it like a fugitive in his cabin, his cave. He doesn’t want to talk it into giving itself up. He would never turn it in to the authorities, the mass mind. The writer is somewhat of a fugitive himself, actually. He wants to escape his time, the obligations of his time, and, by writing, transcend them. The writer does not like to follow orders, not even the orders of his own organizing intellect.
The writer doesn’t trust his enemies, of course, who are wrong about his writing, but he doesn’t trust his friends, either, who he hopes are right. The writer trusts nothing he writes – it should be too reckless and alive for that, it should be beautiful and menacing and slightly out of his control. It should want to live itself somehow.