Excerpt from Atul Gawande’s ‘Why I Write’

Gawande writes in composition notebooks.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Gawande writes in composition notebooks.

“Why I Write” by Atul Gawande:

I write, first and foremost, because it is how I work out stuff that I’m confused about — why we itch, for example; or how health care costs got so high; or, in the case of my new book, “Being Mortal,” why we in medicine handle mortality so poorly and how we might do better. Writing is my way of thinking out loud through puzzles that interest me. I just got lucky that the puzzles that interest me turned out to interest others, too.

I also love how writing gives me the chance to connect with people on a more visceral level. When I was in college I tried being a musician — I played guitar and wrote songs out of hope that I might make other people feel the way that bands I loved made me feel. It never happened. My songs were terrible. But in my writing, I have a sort-of similar chance to make people not only understand an idea but also experience a certain feeling — dread, say, or surprise, or laughter. And I love that.

I remember one time my editor at The New Yorker magazine tried to cut from one of my essays a description of a 10-year-old boy with “a rope of snot hanging from his nose.” It was disgusting, he said.

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That made me so happy. I got him to keep it in.