Why Do We Write?


The motives that drives us to write often includes the following;

  • Having a story to tell
  • Wanting to be acknowledged
  • To make money
  • To be your own boss
  • The only ‘job’ you’ve successfully kept and/or completed
  • Because you have things you want to share or tackle, and writing is the only medium you’ve ever been able to express them in

This list is by no means complete. All these reasons mentioned are usually only touching the surface, the answers given to the question “Why do you write?” that all writers have at one time or another been asked, sometimes with genuine interest as the idea of being a writer can be considered fascinating, or by well-meaning types who believe its the expressway to poverty or some other kind of worst case scenario.

This question, “Why do you write?” actually isn’t a bad one, it something we can and should ask ourselves from time to time. Especially, perhaps when we are struggling. A struggling writer often beats themselves up, laying on the guilt and expounding the fear of failure, time-wasting, the sheer vapidity of the story we believe (fear) we’re writing.

What drives us to write, what we want to share, what stories we want to tell isn’t always as straightforward as we believe. The old rule, write the first draft then edit exists for several reasons, not all as obvious as they seem. Redrafting doesn’t just apply to getting rid of any unnecessary words, bad grammar, and other flourishes writers love so much, but it enables you to discover the story you’re actually telling. Its through the editing process that the story take on a life of its own, a force to be reckoned with. Although the original idea(s) do remain, the story itself becomes something else, a concept transformed from what you had originally expected and wanted when you started.

Sadly, there are times when we realise at this point, that the story we’ve worked so hard on just isn’t working. Its flat, lifeless, and false. Whatever you want to call it, you’re describing something that isn’t working, and no matter how hard you try, that isn’t going to change. If, and when this happens, never destroy the manuscript or delete the document. Keep it, for you can never know when it will come in handy! Take this from someone who learnt this the hard way.

To be a writer is in some strange way a thankless job, because your friends and family often assume you’re procrastinating, or living the life of Riley! But to write is to work on pulling the strands of two or three ideas together, to create well drawn characters, develop believable dialogue, to build worlds and places on paper from mere imaginings. None of this is easy. Yet, when it all comes together, and the story is ‘breathing’ for lack of a better description, you are well on your way. Much like the thirsty traveller who’s stumbles upon a working tap in the desert, and has access to running clean water, all your immediate doubts and fears are quelled.

Whether you are a ‘literacy’ or ‘genre’ writer, the ideas, the concepts, and what drives you to write is a journey each and every time. Each journey is unique, regardless of what rituals, plans or routines work best for you; each journey is an act of discovery and rediscovery. The actor Gabriel Byrnes once said something along the lines of…

“Acting is all about discovering oneself”

Writing too, is an act of self-discovery. Through writing you learn just who you are, and how brave you are capable of being, well, on paper that is!

Just as each writer has their own voice, they each have their own ‘style’ or ‘stylistic’ touches that is independence of their voice, but it can sometimes be linked to it too. There are particular ideas, concepts, and imageries, including certain character types repeatedly revisited. For example Joyce Carol Oates’ stories are often about young women, and girls, and the myriad of their experiences. Margaret Atwood writes about women’s relationships with men and women, this has shifted as she moved into science fiction, to include the environment and humanity’s relationship with the land. On the other hand, many ‘styles’ aren’t as obvious, their subtleties making even the most observant reader oblivious to their presence.

Part of asking yourself the question “why do I write?”, is finding an answer for those style/stylistic touches you find yourself creating within your writings over and over again.

The reasons why we revisit these ideas, imageries, concepts, and character types are numerous; it can be linked to past experiences, something/things that has a strong hold on us, that to a smaller or larger degree shaped us into the people we are today. These experiences can and do affect what we want to say, and how we chose to explore, show, and reflect upon them in our writing. Sometimes these ideas, imageries and concepts we use are nothing more than the influences born of the books we grew up reading, or it can be as simple as the genre’s rules and nothing more.

Whether you are struggling or just pondering why you’ve made this choice of writing for a living or despite what’s going on in your life, you find time to write for pleasure, you need to create a sense of self-awareness as part of your writer’s education. This will improve the quality of your writing, as well as helping you to better understand your motives. For example, there’s nothing wrong with being motived by money, but if this is all that’s driving you, the prospects of success is ironically not good. But then again, if you are honest, you may just surprise yourself and discover a purpose and motivation you never knew you had!

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