Ask any writer why they write, and you’ll get dozens of different answers. Some use it for therapy or meditation. For others, it’s a job or side hustle to earn some extra income. Many writers write to share their story or to make sure the world has the stories they needed when they were young. Some writers can’t explain why they write, they only know that they must, or life feels wrong and hollow.
The following is an adapted excerpt from Building a Writing Life: start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams available now in paperback and eBook.
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I write because…
Understanding why you write is essential to understand how you write. It defines your writing purpose and guides the steps you take to achieve it. It’s the core of your creative impulse and clarifying it now gives you something to refer to whenever you doubt the process or feel you’re being led astray.
Certainty in your own motivations can itself be a source of inspiration. When that inevitable moment comes when you are under attack by the doubts and fears every creative person must battle, you will ask yourself why you even bother. And what happens next depends on how certain you are of the answer. Because if you cannot even tell yourself why you write, you’ll have quit before you’ve begun.
Why do you want to write? An answer may spring to mind, but even that is worth examining. Why are you trying to do this?
Try to nail it down enough so answer the question in a single sentence. In the world of theatre, you’d call this your Artistic Statement. It’s a guiding principle for your creative life that you can ground yourself with whenever you lose touch with your purpose.
What do you really want out of your writing life?
When I was in college, I wrote and directed a play, The Love of Three Oranges, as part of my honors thesis. After I graduated, I started getting production requests for that play from all over the world. There were dozens of productions over the years, all across the US and across the globe, and every time I talked with the directors or cast of those productions, they always said the same thing. “We love this play! When are you writing another?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” I would say, laughing, “I’m not a playwright!” I had convinced myself that writing novels was the only TRUE writing and, besides, I didn’t know how to write a play. And you can see the flaw in this logic right away… that clearly I knew how to write a play if my first effort was this popular, but I couldn’t see it. All I knew is that I had dreamed since I was a little kid of telling stories and had always pictured that as writing novels. Writing for the stage had never figured into that plan.
It was decades later when I realized how silly I was being. What I had wanted as a kid, what my dream had always been, was to tell stories. What did it matter if I told those stories through plays instead of novels if that’s how people wanted to hear them?
I had gotten so bogged down with one interpretation of my dream I lost sight of the core. And once I realized this, I stopped trying to force my ideas into novel-length works and started letting them become plays to great success. While I may go back to novels again someday, for now, I am perfectly happy because I am doing what I wanted to do. I am getting to tell stories every day for people who want to hear them, even if it’s happening on a stage instead of a page.
Sometimes we get very attached to an idea or one way to achieve our goals or dreams, and we lose sight of what it is we actually want. There are a lot of external pressures and biases coming at you about writing and creative work in general. It’s surprisingly easy to convince yourself you want one thing because it’s what you think you should want when, deep down, it’s not what you want at all. Understanding what you want is the key to figuring out how to get it.
What do you really want from your writing? What is your ideal endgame? What is the core of that goal? Once you know that, you’ll have it to focus your efforts and give you a road map on the steps it’ll take to get there.