Why Writers Write. Hint: it’s not for Fame, Money, or Glory
September 2, 2021
As published on Craft Your Content
The art of writing is considered a natural thing by many. For the most part, we are all taught to write at a very young age. We go through the process of learning letters to make words and then combining these words to make sentences. It is something we do every day. But, writing as a craft is something that is not natural. It takes practice. Over and over again.
In Bad Ideas about Writing by Ball and Loewe, one chapter written by Holbrook and Hundley states that “The belief that writing emerges, Athena-like, fully developed from the writer’s head minimizes both the labor involved and the expectation that writing is a skill that can be improved.” The authors go on to say that, “The view that writing is effortless and done on the side by extraordinary people dismisses the real effort writers put into their work….”
The truth is, writing is hard. It takes time, effort, and the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears. And still, writers write.
Why, you may wonder.
Writers write for many different, often personal, reasons, and they learn to take rejection and criticism as part of the life-long writing process. Perhaps writing is best summed up by poet and writer Daniela Perfetti R, “I write to create words in which I want to live when it’s difficult for me to inhabit my own skin. I write because, by writing, I build a path towards myself and connect with my essence, with my being. I write because by doing so, I return to myself.”
Let’s take a look at the various reasons that might motivate a writer, and, who knows; you might discover a thing or two about yourself—or the writer in your life!
I Want to Write a Book and Other Things
Everyone wants to write a book, but few actually do.
I have often heard people saying in general conversations that they would like to write a book. It’s a noble pursuit and a wonderful idea. Few will have the patience, discipline, and persistence to carry the idea through onto the paper. Why?
Because writing is hard work! It is easier to say we would like to write than actually doing the writing. Why is it that we accept concert pianists have to practice for hours upon hours to master a particular piece, yet we relegate writing to something easy if only we had the time to sit down and write?
When I left my full-time job to write, I had many people say that I was “brave.” I had others say that it was nice I was pursuing my passion, but they couldn’t afford to do that. I was neither brave nor just following my passion. Was it easy to make this decision? No. Was I fearful? Yes. Leaving the comfort of paid employment to start my own business based on writing was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
As writers, we know the anguish of sitting down, staring at a blank page, knowing that the words we write will always fall short of the beautifully crafted story we’ve created in our minds. The words will disappoint us. Every. Single. Time.
We know that this is only the first step. We know the hours that lay ahead in pulling something so wonderful from our heads onto the page; until we match our words with the story in our mind. We know the hours of editing, rewriting, and reframing that will turn our nights into an endless stream of thoughts that can’t be quieted.
We know the pain of realizing when something is not working. We know the fear and anguish of failure and rejection. Yet, we write anyway.
Because not writing is more painful.
Self Doubt and Imposter Syndrome
I have never met a writer who does not suffer from self-doubt or imposter syndrome. It has taken me over a year to refer to myself as a writer. I have corporate clients that rely on my writing, and I write every day. For my clients and myself.
Yet somehow, even though I have been writing professionally for many years in previous jobs, and now for my own business, I could never bring myself to say out loud that I was a writer. I felt like a fake.
When I started my own business, I didn’t broadcast it to family and friends. I kept my little secret and madly worked away at creating my website and learning the tools I needed to survive. At times, I was crippled by self-doubt. Thoughts of, “what on earth am I doing?” and “I can’t do this,” and “No one is going to pay me to write.” Even when I received inquiries, I didn’t think they would amount to anything. And yet, they did.
As writers, we battle with self-doubt because writing is risky. It’s risky because putting our writing out into the real world means exposing ourselves to judgment and criticism. Yet, we write anyway.
Writers Write for Love
What’s that quote? If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life?
There is something profoundly strange about writers. I can say that because I belong to a fraternity of writers. Yes, that’s right. I’ve said it. I am a writer. Why do writers choose a profession that, in all likelihood, will see them living just above the poverty line, constantly exposed to criticism and rejection?
I believe writers write for love. This may be an overly simplistic view, but what else would compel us to constantly face the torments of words, to reveal them to the world and have them dashed, pulped, and sometimes, yes sometimes, accepted? We write because we are in love with the process of putting our thoughts into words that others may read and find useful.
For those of us who write fiction, we love our characters. We remain inside them, and they become part of us. Hands up those of you who speak to your characters as if they are real? Don’t be shy. I know you do. When we don’t spend time with our characters, there is a sense of longing and absence.
If we write for love, then nothing will stop us.
Writers Are Masochists
As writers, we put ourselves in situations that no logical person would. We lay our souls bare and hope the world will be kind to us. We start the process knowing the words will disappoint our own expectations. At the best of times, it all seems totally untenable! But we do it anyway. We buckle up and let the pain begin.
The process of writing is a strange and temperamental beast. It is agonizing, as it separates and isolates us for long periods of time from friends, family, and loved ones.
When I write in my study, surrounded by the things I love—photos of my family, Venice, Dolphins, a wall of books, and another covered in Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood quotes—I can feel the irony: I’m surrounded, and yet I’m alone, blocking out everything. No distractions, no visits, just me in my space.
Writing is seen as a lonely pursuit, something we can only do by ourselves. We exist inside our own heads for much of the day, and for the most part, we are truly happy there. Yet, there is a paradox to this perception of writing. We have the ability to connect with more people than we could possibly have in real life through our writing, which recasts the perspective of writing as a solitary pursuit.
Writing gives us connection and in many ways, it is a liberating force. And, let’s face it, it’s cheaper than therapy. So, while we may all be masochists, it’s perfectly enjoyable, for the most part! We parade our neuroses in public disguised as a story and as the great Kurt Vonnegut once said:
“Writers get to treat their mental illnesses every day.”
The Notion of Intentional Fallacy—or Not
Being able to string together a few sentences does not constitute good writing.
Writers have something to say and then they just, you know… write it down, don’t they? We buy into this intentional fallacy. The notion that writers have clear intentions and then confidently write those intentions down, carefully executing their craft with precision until the work is a physical manifestation of their original ideas. Codswallop.
Simply knowing and being able to write words does not make for good writing. The process is far more complex and what is there at the beginning, is never, ever the final iteration. Writers work outside the realm of strict logic.
Einstein said, “no worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.” Similarly, no piece of writing remains static from its original intent to the final product. Writing a novel, or indeed writing anything, is like turning the Titanic on a thimble. It is only possible with a thousand, incremental adjustments and many long hours of toil.
As we revise and edit our words, we demand more of them. We cast sentimentality and hyperbole aside. Sloppy form and structure are massaged, laziness is abandoned, and we strive for something more, something better than what was originally there. So, it is not the intent that makes for good writing, it is the persistence in striving for something beyond logic. Something better than what we originally started with.
Writers Are Optimists
Well, we have to be, really. If we know about self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and our masochistic desire to endure the pain of criticism and rejection, yet we write anyway, then we are all optimists.
We have the hopeful notion that we will connect with others: Whatever is present within me will somehow be present in you, and you will identify with the words and feel something as I do. I may be living in a shack in the far wilderness of Western Australia, and you may be strolling the streets of New York.
But, we both rejoice when Middle Earth is saved, knowing that great evil has been defeated. Or, we both weep at Ophelia’s death, sharing a connection with the play even though it was written over 400 years ago. That’s why we write: for a shared, emotional connection that transcends time, language, and place.
So, to all the writers, those declared and those as yet undeclared, I admire you. You are brave, you are wonderful, and the world would be so much less without your words. I also say thank you. Thank you for making us more human through your writing.
However you write, do it for the joy of the process, not the outcome. Dream big, embrace the discipline required to bring those dreams to life, and keep writing. Please!