In an interview with AOL, lead singer Nate Barcalow said he wrote this song from the viewpoint of a man in hell sending a letter to his loved one.
"What It Is to Burn" was first released in 2001 as a demo for a compilation by Drive-Thru Records entitled Welcome to the Family. This version is described as being longer and orchestral, as well as more popular within Finch's fanbase. The song was re-recorded and added as the title track for Finch's debut album in 2002. The shorter album version was released as a single in 2003, peaking at No. 15 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart; to this date, it is Finch's only charting song.
Loudwire listed "What It Is to Burn" at No. 47 in their list of the Top 21st Century Hard Rock Songs.