I posed this question to the other members of the Tenure group. And I may ask others to write on this topic, too. It is necessary to get a grasp of the reasons why people write, so it is my sincere hope that everyone who reads the responses to these questions comes away with both inspiration and insight for their own writing.
I write to speak for others. Not everyone has the patience to put pen to paper, but everyone has a story they love to tell. Since the best works of fiction are based on life experience, I write for those who don't know where to begin or end. Even a stillborn infant has a story. And words can do so much to break your heart, make you laugh, remember a perfect day or find the fire to right a wrong. When something so intimate is put down and shown to everyone else, the reader takes in a part of the writer. Even if you disagree with what went on, when you're done reading about these experiences you aren't the same as before. You learned. You grew. You connected. By writing for others, and taking their experiences into my stories, I build connections between people who have never met.
And just as importantly as it is to write to speak for others, I write to speak for myself. Every story I've written contains something that I have done. That I know about. One facet of my life, that I then cobble together with what I've learned from others. When you learn to write about what you know, instead of trying to write an epic you know nothing about, your reader sees through that piece of coke bottle lens life gave you. When we share those lenses with each other, we change our point of view for a second, an hour, a day or a lifetime. But that tiny bit of change cannot be undone.
When we write about what we know about, we learn to not only put pen to paper, but learn to look at the world around us. You can take a literal interpretation of "write about what you know," and end up with the great classic writers - Baldwin, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce and Twain. You could also take the allegorical approach and make the surface story sheer fancy and fantasy that you follow in the footsteps of those who caution us to treasure the world around us instead of taking it for granted - Tolkien, Herbert and Rowling.
I write to share. Like a chef, when a writer presents his craft for the reader's consumption the writer leaves himself bare, raw and naked. In sharing you see us at our best and our worst. You take part in witnessing every perfection and every flaw. And in taking in the marred and flawless, you learn to appreciate the unique beauty of what was freely given. Some will thank us for what we shared and walk on waiting for the next morsel from another writer. Some will rant and rave over what we did. Still others will take what we did and shred it to pieces to find out how it worked and how it didn't work. The last are my favorite. Because they're much more intimately tied to me than they realize.
Finally, I write to remember. Our lives are stories, whether they're boring or exciting to someone else is an entirely subjective matter. But, what we see and witness is also a story. Maybe not our own, but it's a story that should be shared. Everything is a story. The mundane of a smiling infant, which may or may not be gas. How your group of friends steps into a cadence to keep pace with one another. The curve of a woman's neck as she cocoons herself in a story at a cafe table. Each of these instances can be stolen, borrowed and brought into our work. To be remembered each time someone opens up your story again and again.