Peter Panda

When asked to pen a post on #WhyIWrite in commemoration of today’s National Day on Writing by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) , I was an eager volunteer. The short answer to why I write is simple: Because I have to. It’s a need for me, much like eating, sleeping or breathing.

Let me back up a bit, however. From the youngest age I can accurately remember, I have been a writer in some form or another. In elementary school, I wrote stories. I was never a great artist, so they were often poorly illustrated with rudimentary stick figures; but the words were what mattered to me, and still do.

Much of this was instilled in me by my late grandparents, who were avid readers and owned a printing company and office supply store in South St. Louis for more than 50 years. I spent a lot of time at that old double storefront on Grand Avenue with my grandparents, watching ancient printing presses spin and whirl, putting ink on page. I was given free reign of supplies – taking whatever paper and writing instruments I wanted to use to express myself (I still have an obsession with pens to this day). My love for the written word was heavily nurtured in this environment and became a life-long focus and, eventually, a career.

As I grew older, entering middle school and then high school, it became more and more clear to me that writing was my destiny. English was always my favorite subject, whether it was creative writing or studying the great literary cannon. Math, however, was something I struggled with throughout my academic career. Multiplication, division and algebra would bring me near tears; but ask me to diagram a sentence and my eyes would light up. Write a 20-page term paper? No problem. It was just in my blood.

Fast forward to college – I entered Mizzou as a freshman pre-Journalism major with big dreams of becoming a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, hoping to combine my dual passions of music and writing. I basically wanted to be Cameron Crowe. However, after my freshman year, I became disenchanted by the cutthroat nature of the Journalism School and instead felt the lure of the English Department. There was just something more “nurturing” there – a shared passion for the written word, for the great poets and authors, and a deep respect and exploration of the writing process. I was “home.”

Good writers read a lot. Good writers are inspired and motivated by the work of other writers, and the English Department was the place where I really began my journey of “being a writer” that I had seeded in my early childhood. A publishing internship at The Missouri Review, Mizzou’s esteemed literary magazine only reinforced it. I graduated with a degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. It was a degree my parents were skeptical of being of any use. It has, however, served me quite well.

Today, I write for several reasons: Foremost, because I still feel that need, that longing to put words on a page on a daily basis. Secondly, because I have been able to turn that longing and that skill into a fairly good living. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be paid to do the thing they love and are best at. I have been fortunate enough to do just that and I never, ever take it for granted.

Much of the time, I’m writing an article for a magazine or a newspaper or blog that is on a subject of great interest to me – which is always the best. Yet, even when I’m tasked with writing for business for a client or on a topic that maybe isn’t that personally interesting, I’m still grateful – grateful for the simple act of forming sentences and helping someone communicate through the words that come easily to me and may not come as easily to them.

That’s the long answer of #WhyIWrite, and it boils down to this: I write because I’m a writer. Writers write. It’s who I am. It’s what I do; and I’ll do it until the day I die.

Why do you write?

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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