Do you know why you write? This may be one of the most important questions you ever answer in the course of your writing career. Why? Because there will be days when no one around you—including yourself—believes you can really do this.
On those days, this answer will be crucial.
You Need to Know Why You Write
The question, “Why do you write?” often tempts a flippant response. I've heard (and given) answers like, “Because,” “You might as well ask me why I breathe,” or “Why not?” which are all kind of a cop-out. (I'm aiming that at myself, by the way, lest I ruffle any feathers.)
Those answers aren't good enough. When your loved one looks up from your precious first draft and says it's boring, or your inner editor screams at you that you'll never be as good as that author you love, or when writer's block rises up to grip you by the throat, these answers will prove useless.
I want you armed better than that, which is why I'm writing this post.
Hard Cold Facts About Writing
- Some days, you won't feel like a writer. Your ideas will look terrible to you. Your own style will feel pedantic or weird or immature. A nagging voice in your head will whisper you're wasting your time. On those days, when your writing seems like something no one would ever want to read, it is essential to have an answer to the question of why you write.
- Not everyone around you will be supportive of your writing. Doubt-bombs can drop from well-meaning parents, from helpful siblings, from friends who don't understand how much writing means to you. They can fall from the fingers of other writers or from complete strangers. Doubt-bombs can come from absolutely anywhere, and when they hit, they fragment. They leave shrapnel, cutting into everything and making your insides bleed. In those hours, when someone who knows your heart unwittingly stabs it by questioning your identity as a writer, you need to be able to answer this question.
So why do you write? 6 Reasons
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Its purpose is to get you thinking, dialoguing with your own brain. Don't be afraid to add your own answers.
1. We write for others.
Life is a crazy road; it's filled with potholes, twists and turns, and sometimes really poorly maintained stretches that could blow your tires. We write because we've felt things, struggled through things, and want to help others find their way along those rocky paths.
We write because we've learned something that could help others through the unexpectedness of life.
We write because we see things in a way many others don't, and we know would benefit them.
2. We write for ourselves.
Writing builds your sense of worth.
Writing relieves stress.
Writing enables you to push off the terrible lie that you don't matter, or that everything you do is temporary.
Writing helps you to see the parts of life that are beautiful and interesting.
Writing helps you to mine your past, pulling jewels from darkness, and strength and beauty from trial.
See how Joseph Gordon-Levitt tackles the abstract concept of loneliness:
The Sun is such a lonely star. Whenever he comes out to see his friends, they all disappear.
― Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1
I certainly won't look at dawn the same way after that.
3. We write for the sake of the story.
We write because we've been deeply moved by something we read (fantasy or non-fiction, it doesn't matter), and we yearn to be able to replicate that feeling in what we write.
I don't know about you, but my life was deeply affected by the stories I read when I was young. I was overweight, unpopular, and generally weird. I had no friends—but reading stories gave me the courage to push through. Reading stories took me out of my own unhappy world and into a brilliant one where, though things were dark, joy and hope were possible as long as I (and the protagonists) never gave up.
I write because I want to give that experience to others. I want to share the wordy medicine that helped me.
4. We write for the sake of beauty.
Art is beautiful. Words can be beautiful, even when they describe ugliness and abuse, or sorrow and the passing of precious things.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Whether you agree with these words or not, they are evocative. Burn, rave, rage… each choice is perfect for the feeling Thomas wanted to create in his reader when considering the struggle against death.
Writing gives voice to the fire in the human soul, the one that burns brightly enough to turn even simple daylight into longing, beauty, and heartache.
5. We write for the sake of grief.
Sorrow and pain need an outlet.
Writing gives us a chance to work through things, to give voice to sorrow, which also gives us a chance to heal.
Writing lets us frame the strangeness of dark feelings into something definable, if not precisely manageable. This next quote, though it comes from a vampire novel, remains one of my favorites:
At three in the morning the blood runs slow and thick, and slumber is heavy. The soul either sleeps in blessed ignorance of such an hour or gazes about itself in utter despair.
― Stephen King, Salem's Lot
I have been there. Many of you have been there. Clearly, so has Mr. King, and he put it in such a way that my own soul can resonate and proclaim, Yes, that's it!
6. We write for fun.
This is a big one, and for some of you, it's going to make no sense.
For the half of you that already know this, you can read on. But for the rest (myself included), hear me again:
You're allowed to write for fun.
You don't have to do it to make money. You don't have to do it for some higher purpose. You don't have to be in it for saving the world.
You are allowed write for fun, to write because you enjoy it, to write because writers make a fantastic community to belong to. You don't even owe an answer to people who question your right to be a writer. If you write for fun, then you have a good and real reason to write.
All you have to do is put one word after another, and remember how great it feels to be a writer.
Why Do You Write?
I write because it gives me hope. I write because it feels like pulling the valve on a malfunctioning boiler (e.g., The Shining), releasing pressure that had to come out one way or another. I write because I want to transport people into another world the way I was transported.
I write for fun.
Whatever reason you have for writing, it's a good one. You don't have to know all the answers yet, either. You have time. Explore this question as you grow in your writing. Knowing the answer will empower you in ways you won't see coming.
How about you? Have you ever asked yourself why you write? Let us know in the comments section.
This can be an overwhelming question, so don't worry about answering it in full today. Take fifteen minutes and work out at least one reason why you write. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section below.
Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.
Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.
When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.
P.S. Red is still her favorite color.