Notes: Susan Sontag on responsibility and obligation of a writer


As writers we often think less and write more. Read less, get distracted by noise more. But as we pick up the pen to write, it’s not just a job or a thing to do as a chore. It’s an obligation to our own selves and to others who are struggling as much in life as we are.

Susan Sontag has stated it beautifully!

I’m often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: “Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.”

Needless to say, no sooner had these perky phrases fallen out of my mouth than I thought of some more recipes for writer’s virtue.

For instance: “Be serious.” By which I meant: Never be cynical. And which doesn’t preclude being funny.

A writer’s life is never easy. We need to deal with so much resistance from our families and friends and nobody seems to get us why we write. Why we do what we do is always their point of illusion.

They ask:

“Do you even make money?”

“What reward do you get by typing these words onto paper?”

“Why don’t you get a real job?”

Clearly they don’t understand.

But they don’t need to understand if you do.

You need to know precisely why you write – even when it’s for other people to sell your writing. Know it. And if you feel, change your mission.



While looking at life, observing the world, we write things that matter to us. But as we suggest the readers to do, do we do that too? Meaning, as writers, we’re mainly reactive then being proactive of the struggle, sufferings and the pains of others.

We know the readers and their pain, but understand them later. Why not being proactive? Why not comprehend the pain before they become suffering? Why not write about it before it exists so that we can prevent it from happening?

Susan Sontag says –

Most notions about literature are reactive — in the hands of lesser talents, merely reactive.

As a writer or a poet or a creator or an artist, you need to understand why you do what you do. It can’t be only money, status, making a living, proving a point, satisfying someone who needs you to be doing something extra-ordinary, not even for becoming a New York Time Bestselling Author. No. You have a purpose in your heart. When you’ve decided to choose art to express yourself, it’s your responsibility to carry out that obligation.

You can’t be free until you free yourself from all the demands and burdens the world puts up on you. And a writer or an artist who is not free to think, can’t think about art.

Free your thinking. Know your calling. Choose stories that matter. And live as if you’re responsible for causing or preventing suffering from your fellow human beings.

Writing is that much necessary. Writing is that much responsibility.




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