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Essay: Why write?


Since the age of 12 when I had my first byline on a Father’s Day essay in the neighborhood newspaper, I’ve been addicted to writing.

Over the years, I’ve loved seeing my byline on literally thousands of Chicago Tribune stories, and on countless freelance pieces, and on the covers of my eight books.

But that’s not what I’m hooked on.  I’m addicted to the challenge of taking some aspect of the chaos of our existence and making sense of it by putting a bunch of words down on a page, whether physical or digital, in a manner that is clear and maybe playful, pleasing and informative.

I enjoy the idea that stuff I write helps readers better understand the world in which we all live.  That’s an important reason I write, but, even more, I write to help myself better understand the world, better understand life.


Hard work and delight

Norman Mailer once said something to the effect that he didn’t know what he thought about anything until he wrote about it.  That’s the experience I have.  I get to know myself, and to define myself, in the act of writing.

Writing is hard work.  It’s a strain to find the right words and put them together just so to achieve clarity and insight.  It’s also a delight.  It’s fun.  I worked for 32 years at the Tribune, and they were paying me a good salary to do what I loved.

The proof is in what happened after I left the paper. I’ve continued to write voluminously — essays, book reviews, articles, poems, books and more — for very little pay or, most often, for no pay.


Rooting words in real life

I was born with this talent, but, throughout my life, I’ve developed it by learning a wide variety of techniques and strategies and by listening to the coaching from editors, publishers and other writers.  My long career as a newspaper reporter taught me how to do research, not only in records or with interviews, but also how to look inside myself to find the questions that need to be answered.

It’s one thing to string words together in a pretty way.  Quite another to root those words in real life, and that’s done through research and observation, through questioning and pondering.


Mountain climbing

For me, writing is a joy, the kind of joy you can only get through a lot of struggle.  It’s like climbing up a mountainside through brambles and over boulders, thirsty and sweating, and, then, when you reach the summit, you can look out at a vista you’ve never seen before.

Of course, the mountain climber comes back down and climbs another mountain.  That’s what I do because here’s the secret:  The finished product is great, but it’s the writing — that process of putting words down — where it’s most fun.  It’s that excitement of creating that is my addiction.


Patrick T. Reardon



This essay originally appeared on the Write Across Chicago website on 7.30.18.




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