This is a huge topic, I know, so you have a long weekend to reflect. :) This question was sparked by an item in a Garrison Keillor column in Salon (registration may be required). I’ll excerpt the relevant paragraph here:
I came back to Benson School as the only boy in the sixth grade to have seen New York City. Enormous status. Royalty, almost. A girl asked me if it was true that trains ran underground and went fast, and I said, yes, it was true and I had ridden them. It was the first time I had original experience to offer to an audience. That’s how a writer is born. You went, you saw, and now you tell the others.
This isn’t quite what motivates me, and I suspect it’s not Mr. Keillor’s entire motivation, either, though you could extrapolate it and include journeys in your imagination. You have almost an obligation to report those, because nobody else can.
If I had to narrow down my motivation to write to one thing, though, it would be the characters that populate my imagination. They don’t usually spring up fully formed, like Pallas, but rather require some nurturing to reach maturity. On occasion, they continue to intrigue me. I want to write down their adventures so that they won’t be lost, and perhaps in that sense, my pack rat tendencies serve me well–I live in fear that the characters will fade from my mind, their hopes and dreams forever lost, the same way that my fear of forgetting what the date of the Joe Jackson concert was prevents me from throwing out a ticket stub.
Funny, I hadn’t thought that “why we write” was going to relate to hoarding, but I guess it kind of does. I just stumbled across a letter in Salon (that’s two mentions in one post) about a guy dealing with his wife’s hoarding tendencies. Cary Tennis, responding, linked to the children of hoarders site, which, to bring this post to a fitting and circular end, contains a number of affecting letters describing some interesting characters who really deserve their own stories.