Monday, June 12, 2023

Why I Write: An In-Depth Exploration by a Psychotherapist: Guest Post by Verlin Darrow

I’m clear about why I started writing when I was nineteen—to relieve boredom while trapped in a tent during a weeklong rainstorm. Once I’d started and the damned sun finally shone again, I entertained the delusional notion that my fledgling novel was well-written and something anyone besides me would want to read. So I persevered, finished the book, and experienced a profound satisfaction I’d never known before. The manuscript was predictably amateurish; it screamed for an editor, or even whatever my sixth grade English teacher might offer (“This is C work, Verlin.”)

When the world failed to support my self-assessment of my skill set, I stopped writing for several years. I returned to it for new reasons. I hated work, both literally and conceptually (why should the world be set-up so we had to do it so much?) Writing seemed like a dodge—a way to make money without a boss, regular hours, or any of the other elements I didn’t want to endure. The common denominator between this motivation and my earlier stance, as any writer will tell you, is delusion. I told myself I was an exception to the rule and would likely earn a fine living as a novelist, despite no formal training. My first therapist, who could be a bit too direct sometimes, told me that my main problem was that I believed my own bullshit. He was right.
So, not such a good reason, but it helped me gain more experience. I rose early and wrote for two hours every day, which was a level of self-discipline I’d never achieved outside of playing on a volleyball  team. This lifestyle proved to be an anti-depressant of sorts, lending meaning to a meaning-starved psyche. So the decision to write was self-reinforcing, and I enjoyed an era of increased contentment.
Of course, anything based on a misconception is doomed to fail sooner or later as reality intercedes. In this case, a lack of success forced me to acknowledge that there wasn’t an external answer to my problems. Moving to the right place, writing books, finding a suitable partner—all of these simply supplied new contexts in which to be unhappy. Like many therapists, I started on the other side of the room, and remained there for longer than most.That’s it for the Darrow history lesson. Let’s look at recent times, in which I’m getting traditionally published (four times so far.) Why do I write now when the writing-as-a-remedy days have passed?

Here’s an annotated list of reasons.
-I’m good at it. Feel free to judge this for yourself by buying my book.
-Writing continues to provide meaning. After a very eventful life, which I don’t have space to delineate, ordinary life events often seem just that—ordinary. Or as I used to say after surviving a major earthquake in Mexico City, “This isn’t 8.1 on the Richter scale.”
-I’m someone who needs to be creative to be happy. There are many of us. If that’s who you are, please write or sculpt or whatever. There’s no escaping yourself.
-Writing helps me feel significant—as though my existence matters. This is probably a holdover from my delusional days, since we’re all just schmoes on this bus. But there you go.
-It provides a vehicle for me to pass on hard-earned life lessons/wisdom/psychological insights. This is one of my main conscious motives. It feels like a waste—and selfish—to go through all my life curriculum and then only use what I’d garnered for myself.
-Finishing projects is still quite satisfying. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this about something or other.
-Writing helps me focus on process instead of outcome, since if I orient myself around the latter, I’m punished. In other words, if I write to over-promote a particular consequence, I set myself up for frustration and discouragement since there are too many variables to control once my manuscript is out of my hands.
-A writer’s life keeps me humble, encouraging an ever-diminishing ego. There are so many authors I aspire to emulate, and never will. And any editor inevitably finds areas that need improvement when I think I have a wonderful, polished book in hand. And they’re annoyingly right.
-I’m forced to keep making my expectations more and more realistic. Although this is usually a process of disillusionment, I’ve reached a stage of my life in which clarity and getting real are priorities. For better or worse, being in touch with how things really are is helpful.
I imagine that many writers could compile a similar list, but perhaps I’ve saved someone the trouble of doing that by sharing my experience. Most of the time, if I’m not trying to come up with a topic for a guest blog, I don’t think about any of this. I do posit the situation in one simple way: when I write, my life works better.

Verlin Darrow is a psychotherapist who lives with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near the Monterey Bay in northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary. Verlin is a former professional volleyball player (in Italy), unsuccessful country-western singer/songwriter, import store owner, and assistant guru in a small, benign spiritual organization. Visit Verlin Darrow online at:

1 comment:

marieclaire said...

You just described my own reason for writing: "I’m someone who needs to be creative to be happy." That about sums it up! Thank you.