Home / Articles / Why Do We Write?

Why Do We Write?

“We write to tell the truth. We write to know who we are. We write to find our voices. We write to save the world. We write to save ourselves. We write so that when we look back and see that moment when we were totally clear, completely brilliant, and astoundingly wise, there is proof – proof right there on the goddamn page.” (Nancy S. Aronie, “Writing from the Heart”)

The last line above notwithstanding, Aronie is onto something with her declarative statement of why we humans write. Seemingly innocuous statement, misstatement really, misstatement on my part in the comment section to which AT and several others corrected me; the scolding of which I welcomed gracefully as I chose to stay mum not because I didn’t have anything to say, but rather the last thing I wanted to do, make that hate doing, is use the comment section to blabber my personal views, albeit unrelated to the posted article. All and all, what this brought forth, at least in my head, was this general question: Why do we humans write?

The nagging general question that refuses to go away as it metamorphoses from the generic pronoun ‘we’ to the personal ‘I’: Why do I write? What, after all, is the purpose in posting at Awate? Honest reflection and assessment will be made to address these and many more that come dashing to my head along the way. I know one thing for sure: the process of writing help clarify ideas in my head.

There is this mysterious transformation that takes place when one commits that pen to a blank page or in the parlance of today’s world when one begins to hit those keyboard keys onto a blank word-document. The process of writing gives me an immense joy, thusly, I am always in the process of writing one idea or another and when the muse is on my side is when I get the ultimate pleasure out of that process of constructing something out of a blank page. The latter seems to be at play here and I am seizing the moment, but wait a second seems to be the suggestion in my head as these seemingly clashing ideas twerk in my mind – nevertheless, the rhythmic vacillation is clear in my mind’s eye. Obviously, that does not fully explicate why one is compelled to write just because there seems to be a joy in doing something does not necessarily constitute in committing it to the written word or sharing it with others besides; and doing it in a language of instruction rather than in one’s mother tongue (but suspend this additional dance for now)

Writing is one solitary affair that I allow myself to have a license to, which permits me the freedom to think through issues of my fancy; when I do that I find that once muddled ideas begin to become clearer as I begin the process of writing. Writing is a craft of my art that I try to develop as I listen to that voice within me and stay true to it as I do. I write because I feel the urge and the need of believing in having something of value to say. I write because I feel a sense of urgency to do so and when there is a conviction behind one’s ideas of compassion, sincerity, honesty, and introspection are the natural corollaries that follow. If I lose these aspects of myself when writing, then, I will have no voice from which to write and without such a voice there exists no art in the craft of my writing. I try to stay true to T.S. Eliot’s insightful precept:  “Whatever you think, be sure it is what you think; whatever you want, be sure that is what you want; whatever you feel, be sure that is what you feel.” My truth as I conceive of it is what leads me to write; it is never about scoring politically; never about one-upmanship; it is always, I hope it shall always remain, an endeavor of sincere expression no matter in what language (there comes that dance of language again, suppress it dear self; self-restraint and discipline are the hallmark of the art of writing, are they not?)

For me personally writing was, has been, and will continue to be about opening myself to certain vulnerabilities that may lead me to a higher understanding as a result of give and take. I never enter into a dialogue to win the argument but to elevate my understanding of issues being addressed; it matters very little if my idea gains traction; what matters is that it is being entertained by readers who in turn will help me perceive and see their truth of the matter from their personal angle and life experiences, consequently, we all reach a new summit, a new height of deeper understanding, if you will. The epigraph above that Aronie shares why it is we human types write resonates with me with infinite power each time I read it. Writer’s ability does not only rest in the stringing of words together, but also in the cunning and intuitive abilities to capture readers attention from beginning to end; furthermore, having the intent and the higher purpose that takes readers to the heights of new understanding than when they began reading the writer’s initial note is mesmerizingly the goal, at least, it ought to be.

Writers have this innate desire and a knack for a story and are able to see a narrative in the making at the mere mention of a thought or idea much as how this piece was incepted. The ability to see in other people’s ideas and taking it to the next level with their own angle is something that speaks uniquely to the human spirit & capacity to reinvent and reinvigorate ideas. Ultimately, writers have the capacity to take a particular event, thought, idea, and universalize it to where they make generalizable statements making their ideas plausibly palpable for their readers.

Above it all, for a writer writing has reached its pinnacle not when readers respond or not; not only when readers read but when someone’s writing makes them contemplate, evaluate, give second thoughts as a result of a writer’s central premise, is tantamount to victory for the writer; not for its ‘gotta’ sense of victory but rather in I-never-thought-of-it- that-way kind of victory.

This is not to disregard or deny the genius in some writers who are so brilliant that they use their art and craft of writing to not only brag of their genius and unashamedly revel in the ‘gotta’ moment, but even go further than that as to insult their readers in a condescending way in a way they convey their messages across. In other words, these types of writers do not give a whit if they lose the heart of their readers so long they can show their brilliance with the power of their mind and the command of the language in which they write irrespective of whether their writing attracts audience or repels – and they seem to feel the bragging rights to do so.

These are writers who wage war on their audience instead of waging their ideas peacefully, thereby gaining readership. What these last types of writers miss is that it is not just about the written word but about the reader; it is not just about the ideas being propounded, but also about how constructively they are being received. Whether writers fall into the category of those who could care less where the chips may fall or those who are overly cautious types who want to tread the treacherous waters as not to lose their readers, either of which these are modulators of their art – both of which are using their respective truth narrated to the best of their conception of it in hopes of transmitting it to their readers.

Now, it finally dawned on me why the issue of language was interfering with my thoughts here; it is because I just read a comment that Sam lucidly interjected in my last article that I did not see until this morning, a thoughtful comment that merits an article all of its own, but suffice it for now to say this: the topic is about writing, and the tool of my trade is English language, a language to which I have instructional and educational dispensation alas I still feel some temperamental disposition which seems not to give me that depth of emotion as my mother tongue Tigrinya did during my formative years; here is a puzzle; the nation-state I was born into, in its infinite wisdom, ostensibly motivated by politics, decided that my mother tongue was not adequate enough to become the language of instruction, therefore, it was left to stay suppressed as Amharic and English ever so slowly took over in what language I would use to express my thoughts.

Thus, as Tigrinya was relegated to the spoken everyday language during my formative years and never having risen beyond letter writings that I did on behalf of my parents when they wanted to communicate with my brother who was overseas – Tigrinya never developed above this modicum and it inadvertently or not stayed in the background. Had I stayed beyond the seventh grade level in Eritrea, Amharic would probably have become the language in which I would express my ideas as it was the main language of instruction to the end of high school. So, here you have an individual whose mother tongue underwent a state of arrested development, whose middle schooling had to also undergo another mutation as the need of adopting, yet another language, namely, Arabic was in the offing as my middle school years in Cairo had demanded it. To finally coming to this totally foreign language (i.e., the English language) as defaulted position is one in which I now see the main language by which I express my thoughts. Therefore, the questions that Sam raises have colossal implications, pedagogically speaking and from policy standpoint to which I hope to give a separate treatment in the future.


About Beyan Negash

Activist, a writer and a doctoral candidate (ABD) in Language, Literacy, and Culture at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Beyan holds a bachelor of arts in English and a master of arts in TESOL from NMSU as well as a bachelor of arts in Anthropology from UCLA. His research interests are on colonial discourse and post-colonial theories and their hegemonic impact on patriarchy, cultural identity, literacy development, language acquisition as well as curriculum & citizenship. The geopolitics of the Horn of Africa interests Beyan greatly. His writings tend to focus on Eritrea and Ethiopia. Beyan has been writing opinion pieces at awate.com since its inception (1 September 2001).

Check Also

Hafeez Saaddin Mohamed Badlay: a tribute

Grief struck the Eritrean community in Melbourne following the sudden death of Hafeez Saaddin Mohamed …

  • Rodab

    Good morning Yodita,
    I remember you saying you like assenna and Amanuel Eyasu. I don’t remember exact words but you said something like that.
    I was wondering, what do you think of the somtimes controversial meskerem.net? Do you see it as an opposition website, as a pro-government, or somewhere in between?
    Nice day!

    • Nitricc

      I know you asked the question to Yodita but she can’t answer you honestly. Becouse she have diclared her absolute and blind support to assenna and the owner of the website. S0, let me take the honor to speak the truth and to speak freely.
      I Nitricc believe that assenna.com and the owener of assenna.com has harmed in horrible way any chance for change. The more false news they disperse them more the good people stick with the government.
      Even if you listened carefully Dejen, he stated that assenna reported the death of eritrean prisoners while still alive. This is crime to the highest degree. Forget the prisoners; think about their family who are devastated by the false news. So,I know many of you think assenna is that all but at the end of the day; assenna has done mojar damage to your cause and irreversible damage to the family of the prisoners. If you ask me, I will shut that garbage web site.
      I was surprised work awate team when they reported the death of the major general Tewil. They said in their announcement they heard the news that very morning? I did not say anything but how irresponsible can you my beloved AT get and report a news that they got the same day?
      I let it go and I did not said anything
      Regarding meskerem.net.
      They are harmless and they are more acting In a wish and good will to the nation of Eritrea. They are between the opposition and the government. So when they diclared them selves as leveling the playing field they mean it.
      Here you have it,Rodab.

  • Mahmud Saleh

    Salam Beyan;
    Thank you Beyan; I enjoyed your article.

  • Kokhob Selam

    Dearest Beyan,

    that is very interesting article. by the way do you start visiting our new Jebana ? please don’t forget to enjoy it.

  • Beyan Negash

    Selam Amanuel & Papillon

    There are times when there does not seem to be a choice but to ‘pull the bull by the horn’ and face the beast headlong and head-on so as not to ‘throw the baby with the bathwater.’ These two idiomatic expressions have been easier said than done, however. A great deal of pain has been and continues to be inflicted on Eritreans. The bull is still standing, however wobbly, however bruised, alas continues not only to contaminate that bathwater making it difficult to distinguish the bad from the good, thereby, ridding and hollowing the nation from its vitality: the youth, the young, and the adult as nobody seems to be spared from the wretched wrath that has been unleashed on innocent Eritreans. Therefore, your efforts Amanuel and the decision you made to wage a war with the written word against the menace at home is laudable, which proves that when push comes to shove we can all rise to the occasion and become writers, and you are the proof in the putting, if you will.


    Here is a wordsmith who can say in one paragraph what many of us are incapable of producing, yet does not seem to wanna let us into her world; ah, how I wish you grace Awate with the literary disposition that you clearly
    have but seem to want to bottleneck it for now, one hopes it is just for now and that in the near future, when the dust in Eritrea settles, you will burst and blossom the literary world. But of course I am one who scavenges for the name
    of Papillon in the comment section, because I know it will be such a treat on those rare occasions when you do. For brevity, please allow me to quote this part of your otherwise penetrating note: “…brilliant literature are born in a
    dark and gloomy winter season; in an utter melancholy when one’s soul is suspended on bottomless cliff. However, when the great writer travels with in the valley of darkness, the audience–his or her readers see light radiating as
    his or her ink lands on the salivating and hungry white-blank pages.” I wholeheartedly concur with this notion, and it won’t be long before Eritreans begin to chronicle the anguishes of life for they have had the four “gloomy season[s]”
    rolled into one for the last five decades, and when that endeavor begins in earnest, we will be one blessed society in which literature will flourish freely and imperishably.

    At the helm of Eritreans’ lives there reside, comfortably or not, imperial and colonial, and dictatorial worlds, worlds of which have had far reaching genealogical arms which keep on trickling to the nerve center of the present day existential questions that must find a way of manifestation as the residual effect of which is best tackled through literary canon; not the fodder cannons, that of which we have had more than our dues, and either of which there will ostensibly be disorienting moments that will lead to a place of disequilibrium, but we must be quick to find that equilibrium, which I venture to guess can be had through the world of literature.

    Literary canon that is borne out of the lived experience is one that brings fresh perspective to the world at large because one is never able to locate its tendentious directions as it is irrecusably and irrefutably
    personal; its truth uniquely and solely belongs to its author. The center of some such literature rests in the fertile imagination of the writer while its periphery allows for pure literary fecundity as it hinges and unhinges all in
    the mind of the author and the corollary of which is a great deal of times original piece of writing, one hopes.


    • Nitricc

      Beyan,Aman and Pappi
      please don’t shoot for my intruding but i thought ” The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say” ?

      • Amanuel Hidrat

        Hey Nitricc,

        In fact it is for both “to say what we all can say and what we are unable to say”. This is the first sensible comment I heard from you. keep that line of reasoning without reverting to diatribes which always you do.

        Amanuel H.

        • Nitricc

          Aman I begged for forgiveness and you still gunned me down. lol

          regarding sense and sensibility well, it is all about personal test and subjective but
          if you call what you people talking about day and night on this forum sensibility, then what can i say. To tell you the truth i am among the few once with sense and sensibility
          do you know why? I am a man; “a man big enough to admit his mistakes; smart enough to profit from them and brave enough to correct it.” and very much that sounds to me; the very definition of sense and sensibility.

          • Amanuel Hidrat

            Ya Nitricc,

            Sometimes like a son you listen to Advices. True to your character, you admit sometimes to your mistakes, but that doesn’t me you talk sensible talks. Credits are given where credits are due. Sensibilities always goes with common sense, someone who talks on realities and has the “logic of discerning” the issues at hand. You are always on and off to tackle the problem of our society. But if you free yourself from the culture of PFDJ you have all the potential to be what you want to be. I am following you like my son.

            Amanuel Hidrat

  • Papillon

    Dearest Beyan,

    If the white-blank page where your powerful ink mercilessly glides on is boundless, it is precisely because, your “beautiful” mind is unlimited as well. We are told that, we as species have our own personal truths but invariably for reasons which are known only to the vagaries of nature, most of us are unable to bring it to the fore so that, the world would know what we are like beyond the persona; beyond the mask; beyond the pretension; beyond the facade and beyond the mediocre act and craft. But with in the midst of the multitude of people who roam the planet with pretension, you’re among the very few and unique who are blessed with a stellar acumen and invite us to your personal world, personal fiefdom, personal realm, personal turf and personal niche as it is built with words and in words—words not alien to each other but dance to the tune of the otherwise perfectly choreographed enigma of life. They say, if you’re not afflicted and inflicted with a chronic suicidal ideation, you’re not a great writer. The cyclothymia in the cliche could as well be frightening but it probably holds water for it has a genetic predisposition in it. That is, great ideas not in the discovery of a mundane science but the refined art and craft of brilliant literature are born in a dark and gloomy winter season; in an utter melancholy when one’s soul is suspended on bottomless cliff. However, when the great writer travels with in the valley of darkness, the audience–his or her readers see light radiating as his or her ink lands on the salivating and hungry white-blank pages. I among the many in the land of Awate marvel at your breathtaking brilliance as your words take off, cruise and land on the hungry pages with ingenuity and creativity.


  • Thomas

    Hi Haile TG,

    I think Zikre Libana of asmarino has questioned your stand about the 4 bishops, below is what was said:)

    And yet, they were not spared from criticism by a certain writer at the
    comments section of Awate.com; he alludes to the Vatican as the power
    behind them and reprimands them for not raising their voice when
    disabled fighters protested and got massacred, when senior leaders of
    the regime commonly known as the G-15 were made to disappear, including
    the demotion and imprisonment of Patriarch Antonius of the Tewahedo
    Church. The writer cannot be naïve; inquiring and asking about the
    whereabouts of people under the regime in Eritrea now and its past is a
    dangerous thing, a risk to one’s own life. In the ghedli times, the
    policy was “Ask Not About Your Brother.”

    • haileTG

      Hey Thomas,

      Yes those are interpretations of zekre Lebona to part of my debate here. I say interpretation, because the “intent” that was captured isn’t mine but the words are. My intention was NEVER to criticize the bishops, I have all my coments here to prove it. It was to question that it was not part of the “movement from inside” thing that certain quarters are trying to sell it as. The bishops have more and over of my admiration and agreement to what they did, its timing and relevance. Abba Simon with radio SBS has answered every question that I asked and I take his word over a freelance anaysts who wish to be more Catholic than the Pope. Abba Simon, listen to Sabri’s link, said the bishops did what they always did and it was public perception that has changed not what they said now or in the past (he mentioned 1991, 2001 and 2014). So where is the “change from inside?” narrative? Abba Simon convinced me that the basic motive was the desire to speak the truth. He declained to name if any of its leaders have ever faced reprisal in the past saying that it “debases” the matter. I was not clear with why telling one set of “truth” is not debasing anything and telling another set of “truth” is. But apart from that my questions were well addressed by Abba Simon, and bless him for that.

      Zekre wants to say I “criticized” them without any evidence what so ever. All I said was they have better protection. That is pure observation. Abba Simon could have despelled that by saying who was arrested in their ranks in the past, but I understand him not wanting to “debase” the issue. I hope brother Zekre would correct his understanding of my intent. Thanks Thomaso for the shout too 🙂

      • Thomas

        Haile TG – I knew your intent and the misinterpretation there. I know you are a strong man who is willing to take any punches. I see you don’t say things for the sake of saying them. I admire your debate skills and standing for our people/the truth/voiceless. In the name of our people, I thank you for that!

  • Nitricc

    We write to tell the truth nothing but the truth about the birth and the origin of no peace and no war. The very no peace no war that torn Eritrea.

    “”””After the carnages at the Badme and Tserona fronts in early 1999 where Ethiopia suffered horrendous casualty levels, Ethiopia’s military strategists conceived a war plan premised on bleeding Eritrea’s economy to death by forcing Asmara to engage in an unsustainable mobilization to keep up with Ethiopia’s mobilization. With an economy one seventh of Ethiopia’s, and a population base one twentieth of its larger neighbor, Eritrea, the planners believed, had no chance in keeping up with Ethiopia’s spending levels, and hence allow Ethiopia to win an easy victory. No one stopped to think that the strategy was a double-edged sword, potentially injurious to both economies, and quite possibly more harmful for the larger economy.
    The principal instrument for implementing the strategy was the microscopic and time-consuming examination of the Technical Arrangement. Why? Because Ethiopia needed time to arm hundreds of thousands of soldiers for an eventual invasion of Eritrea, under the pretext of “liberating” the contested territory the TPLF was claiming as its own. The strategy was based on three assumptions: the continuing indulgence of the OAU and its partners to Ethiopia’s demands and threats; the generosity of the donor community with supplying relief commodities that could be diverted for the war effort; and, buying the silence of domestic critics to the war by dangling Assab to obtain their acquiescence to the military build-up and subsequent invasion of Eritrea.
    As the TPLF had expected, the OAU and partners played their part in acceding to every demand to amend an un-amendable Technical Arrangement to guarantee Eritrea’s rejection of the document, an to paint Eritrea as the recalcitrant party. The international community, led by the U.S came through with one million tons of relief commodities that were easily diverted for the war effort. The domestic critics kept quiet, hoping Assab would fall on their lap.
    Prime Minister Meles had every reason to believe that his strategy would work that he boasted to a journalist that Ethiopia would attack at the right time, not a day early, not a day late. Eritrea did not have a ghost of a chance to survive. Its army would be decimated, its government overthrown. Its sovereignty taken away, only to be returned at Mekele’s sufferance after meeting strenuous terms of surrender, including but not limited to the handing over of Assab to Ethiopia. This was the Plan, expected the outcome of the “brilliant” No War, No Peace strategy for which the May 12 invasion was launched. Prime Minister Meles was so certain that the strategy would work that he confidently told a UN Security Council visiting team that Ethiopia would conclude the war quickly, to return to its primary task of fighting hunger and deprivation. The Prime Minister was smugly confident that that the strategy, honed and planned carefully for almost a year, would work. It did not.
    After gobbling up empty territory the first few days, and boasting to a gullible world that Eritrea’s forces had been “decimated,” it looked as if there would be no resistance all the way to Asmara. It appeared as if the plan would work, and that Asmara would soon fall. Much of the world was on a prayer vigil for Eritrea. After the first week or so, hard reality set in. The much-outnumbered Eritrean forces hit back from strategic positions of their choosing. From the top of their inhospitable hills and escarpments, they mowed down waves after waves of humanity. Apparently, all the military analysts and nameless Addis Ababa based diplomats who had projected Eritrea’s imminent doom had failed to do their homework: they never bothered to verify the stupendous military “successes” Ethiopia was claiming, or the huge “losses” the Eritrean forces had allegedly suffered. Signs that the numbers Ethiopian commanders were citing of Eritrean divisions “decimated or “put out of action” did not up where everywhere. Secure in their superior knowledge of military science, the analysts did not want to admit that they were wrong. As professionals, however, they worst blunder was not to take into account the iron will of the Eritrean forces to defend the land, or the stout heart of the Eritrean people to fight for their sovereignty no matter what the cost.
    Suffering unspeakable carnage at various points, the invasion run out steam. Ethiopia changed course and put everything, about eight divisions backed by a frightening array of heavy equipment, into capturing Assab. The campaign failed, after suffering defeat after defeat over a one-week engagement. Risking further losses deep into Ethiopian territory, Prime Minister Meles was forced to accept the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, June 18. The No War, No Peace strategy on which Mekele’s war planners had counted heavily to give them control of Eritrea was a miserable failure. Still too weak to resume the war, but lacking in courage to make peace, and yet needing time to know what to do next, the TPLF returned with an updated version of its failed strategy: No War, No Peace: The Next Generation.””””

    • Thomas

      Hi Nitricc,

      LOL, Is this your way off getting attention? You really are an entertainer. It looks like you missed Rahwa because:

      1) you posted her picture with the flag & boxing
      2) Now the above war propaganda of PFDJ
      3) The amharic song that has to do with assab/red sea.
      4) To change the topic from us discussing the great letter of the Bishop’s, you started the soccer betting/gambling. I think you might have tried to include Rahwa there. Knowing she hated your political debate skills, he tried to relate her with soccer.

      I tell what? You are one of those toothless supporters:))

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Dear Beyan,

    Good reflection on what a writer should be, a reminder and a lesson to all of us. I have never thought to write my view whatever it might be; and I have never considered myself as a writer. One thing that throws me to this unknown world of writing was “just to cry out loudly against the senseless war that started may 6,1998. I said to myself “nebsey tebegesi” and hence “tebeges”, which I took it as a mission to avert this bloody war. I will never forget the day I have taken my self-oath, a sacred allegiance and a solemn promise to save the lives of our youth. To be a writer it is a heck of many turns and twists even to know the rules of writings let alone to create your own style. For me up to now it is all by try and errors just to convey a constructive message. So Beyan what most of us we are doing here aren’t dictated by our desires to write but indeed we are compelled by history and reality to do something to the current predicament our people.

    Amanuel Hidrat

  • Beyan Negash


    haQkha haquda, Amharic was taught as a subject to the end of high school. I went up to seventh grade during the Dergue era. English may have been the language of instruction, but you know as well as I do that by the end of finishing high school, one would be hard pressed to write coherent paragraph let alone to express one’s thoughts and ideas in a lengthy essay in English. But, you are right haquda English was the language of instruction, however, consider the following argument that emanates from Vygotsky’s concept related to the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

    Given that Amharic had the ZPD advantage as viewed from proximity, from cultural, musical, and traditional standpoint, it is not that hard to see how such experiences being experienced by kids in a school setting in Amharic language could’ve as easily superseded and trumped English language, hence for making such an assertion. This, again, is not to refute the veracity of your statement, but meant to give it qualified explanation.

  • haquda

    Beyan, you said ” Had I stayed beyond the seventh grade level in Eritrea, Amharic would probably have become the language in which I would express my ideas as it was the main language of instruction to the end of high school”

    I don’t know which year you went school in Eritrea,But as far as I remember English was the language of instruction beyond sixth grade ( starting seventh grade).