Different people write for different reasons. Flannery O'Connor said she wrote because she was good at it, the kind of funny, frank, conversation-stopping comeback she specialized in. But that can't be true, can it? There must've been a time when she wasn't good at it, but was writing anyway, learning to be good at it.
I can't speak for other writers, but I'm pretty sure I took it up because I craved attention.
I wasn't always interested in writing, for the longest time I wanted to be a cartoonist. When I was in middle school, I drew comics about my friends on the debate team. Actually, they weren't properly friends at the time. I was the youngest person on the team, there largely on sufferance of the coach, Ted Carter, because my big sister was on the team. Everyone else was older, sophisticated, wise-cracking and sharp. I covetted their acceptance.
I dreamed up a story line in which the team were super heros, along the lines of the Fantastic Four. I stayed up one night, using a playing card to square off panels on sheets of typing paper, in which I illustrated their adventures. Just wait 'til they see this! They're going to love it, I thought, and sure enough, they were thrilled! They passed them around and laughed and repeated the jokes I'd written and told their friends about it. I wasn't just accepted, I was like a star.
That set a pattern for me. Every time we went on a debate trip, I produced a fresh comic. When I moved to Milledgeville and joined the team there, I did the same. Staying up late, all alone, darkness outside the windows, drawing pictures and writing dialogue - wait 'til they see this! It was the anticipation of people's reaction even more than their actual reaction that began to drive me.
Also while in Milledgeville, I joined the theater group at the behest of my teacher Lee Bowman - ah, what we owe to our teachers, can we ever thank them enough. I loved being on stage and was pretty good at it. I continued acting right through college. But the attention you get performing, while intoxicating, is too strong for a steady diet as far as I'm concerned. I love being on stage, but afterwards my hands are shaking because of the strain. My young friend Carson is soon to debut as a Lost Child in Peter Pan, and I hope he loves it, too. Acting is a real thrill and something no one should miss. But in the long run, it's not for me. Maybe the proportions are wrong - there's too much actual attention and not enough anticipation of it. Everything's all-at-once do-or-die make-or-break. You're on the tightrope the whole time, and while it's a blast feeling their response - and blast is the accurate word: it's like standing in front of an open furnace door - you can't enjoy the prospect of their pleasure. Flannery OConnor, like me, had also been a cartoonist, and I believe acted on the same Georgia College (Georgia Women's College, then) stage that I did. But she gave those things up, even though she must've been good at them, to write - which presumably, she wasn't good at yet. Maybe there wasn't enough wait 'til they see this to savor.
I like this right now. I'm the only one awake in the house. It's dark outside the windows. My second cup of coffee is at my wrist. In a moment, I'll refill it and resume work on The Bread of Heaven, a novel I'm currently on draft 12-c of. But OMG, OMFG, it is really something! Wait 'til you see this! Just wait 'til you see it!