Why Do We Write?

Want to write a book? Our proven program, 100 Day Book closes soon. Get the process to finish your book now. Learn more and sign up here.

I had always dreamed of making it as a full-time writer. Somehow, here I am, every day waking up and driving to a coffee shop to write a book.

Why Do We Write

In the midst of that, as I'm filled with amazement that I'm actually doing this writing thing, I have to ask myself—why?

Why do I write? Why do any of us write? Why write?

Why do we write?

I used to think I was writing to make a name for myself. I thought I was writing to one day sell lots of books and make money.

But while it’s only been a couple of years since I’ve become a “full-time” writer, each day I come to realize more and more that writing was never about the prestige or money.

I want to take a minute to reflect and remind us why we write.

We write so we can live.

This last week I wrote over 10,000 words. That’s a lot.  It was one of those weeks I just couldn’t stop. Thoughts, words, and pages poured out of me.

It wasn’t a stroke of luck that hit me that week—it was life. It was a week of heartache and pain, and I constantly found myself saying, “I don’t know what to do.”

So I wrote.

It was some of my greatest, deepest writing. I reflected on life, relationships, and letting go. I honestly don’t think I would have survived this last week if I had not been writing.

And while we so often tell ourselves to find our audience and imagine our reader, there will always be times we need to write for ourselves.

It’s a strange concept, but as a writer, not everything you write will be for a grand audience. You will write so that you can live.

We write because we see differently.

The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
—Neil Gaiman

Everyone sees the world differently. As writers, we see the world in words.

A chair will never simply be brown and wooden. It will be worn and stained. It will wear coffee rings and tear stains and tell the stories of each.

We see the world in textures and colors that never are what they seem to be. We see the people around us as puzzles and characters, their stories waiting to be written and told.

The young couple holding hands under the Eiffel Tower are not as carefree as they seem, while Parisian pressure tightens their grip.

And I write because I wonder, “What if I am the only one who can see it?”

What if I am the only one who can see the stained chair and tell its story? What if I am the only one who can see through the couple in Paris?

If we neglect to write these stories that only we can see, will they be lost forever?

Maybe.

So we write because we see. As writers we each see the world in different words and have an obligation to write them.

We write because it is who we are.

In Annie Dillard's essay The Death of the Moth, she writes about what it means to be a writer.

How many of you, I asked the people in my class, which of you want to give your lives and be writers? All hands rose to the question. You, Nick? Will you? Margaret? Randy? And then I tried to tell them what the choice must mean: you can’t be anything else.
—Annie Dillard

You can’t be anything else.

You will write because it is who you are. You will write on sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, in coffee shops and on street corners. You will write thousands of words that may never be read, but you will write them anyways.

We write.

We write because, honestly, most days I don’t feel we have a choice. It has become who we are, how we think, see, and speak.

Why do you write? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to work on the writing that compels you right now. What's the writing you feel drawn to, inspired by, interested in today? Maybe it's your work in progress, or maybe it's a story that's been brewing in the back of your mind for days. Maybe it's a blog post, or maybe it's a journal entry you've been wanting to put down on paper.

Whatever it is, take time now to work on it, and let it remind you why you started writing in the first place. When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section and leave some thoughts for other writers.

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

100 Day Book Cover

Closes in . . .

Day(s)

:

Hour(s)

:

Minute(s)

:

Second(s)

Want to Write Your Book?

100 Day Book Closes Soon: Sign up for our proven program, 100 Day Book, and get the coaching, training, and accountability you need to finally become an author and finish your book. The program closes soon though, so sign up now.

52 Comments

  1. UnbrokenMirror

    Well said.

    Reply
  2. Karen Watkins

    I write to pour out my emotions and not hold onto them. Sometimes the only way I can deal with a situation I can’t deal with is to write. I usually feel a great sense of release and relief after I have written. I find these days I am writing more for this reason, to save me, than for any public offering of my thoughts. Sometimes life seems so overwhelming, the only way I can find a balance is to let the emotions cover paper and the thoughts bleed out. Writing is my leach that bleeds out the impurities. I certainly feel I see the world differently and seeing the world from my eyes can be a benefit and a curse. But that uniqueness motivates conversation, inspires action, and gives pause to the complexities of life. Writing is my art, my version of the world – a conglomeration of details seeking some sort of place on the canvas. Life is challenging; writing assists with resolutions. I loved this article and the quotes from Gaiman. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Karen, I love what you say about writing more, “to save me, than for any public offering of my thoughts.”
      I also think that’s where sometimes our best writing comes from.
      I’m glad you feel that you see the world differently too. I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one. 🙂
      Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Pratibha K Singh

    Great to read your thoughts Kellie!
    These resonate so well with my thoughts which I expressed on my blog after a tiring day, full of lectures and travelling and driving. But yes, before the day ended, I did write and fulfilled my promise of writing for my readers and for myself.

    Reply
  4. Sefton

    It’s strange but I’ve never questioned writing. It’s just what I do, have always done. And I don’t mean ‘just’, I mean completely, gloriously, deliriously. I once tried to stop, for someone’s sake. And I couldn’t. Even for the sake of a (misgiven) promise, I couldn’t stop. The someone is long gone, of course, and now I’ll never stop.

    Reply
    • Andy90

      A byproduct of being alive, so 🙂

      Reply
    • TerriblyTerrific

      Don’t stop, indeed. Inspirational! Gold star! ⭐

      Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Love this Sefton. “It is what I do and always have done.”
      Don’t let anyone stop you. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Ingo Hampe

    Why do I write is! very much related to the question: Why do I read? I read because I want to exoiereince the real life. I want to know what life is about, what is a good life and how can I live a good life. Writung is just the same – only from teh opposite side of the mirror.

    Reply
    • Andy90

      I agree with you; reading and writing enrich our understanding of the World – they also help us experience one, two… a million lives 🙂

      Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Ingo, I also agree. Why live just one life when we can live so many through writing? And when we write them, we get to decide the outcome.

      Reply
  6. Out Words Flow LLC

    Great article. In the Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, she talks about the power of writing to heal the author, to deepen the well of creativity and gain greater trust in Inspiration. Even writing when there is no clear inspiration will bring insights and peace.

    Reply
    • Kristin Rivers

      Yes!! I recently purchased The Artist’s Way and have been very impressed and encouraged by that advice!

      Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      I’ve been meaning to get that book! Now I have to. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  7. Donald R. Calloway

    I write about what I’m thinking at the moment.

    I have a pet dog, Dixie, a black and white beagle/terrier mix, who came into my life two short years ago this month. She’s the best, best friend you could hope to have. Playful and loving, she loves unconditionally. This is how I would describe her. On my worst day she brings me a joy and a happiness that only she can give.

    Then, last evening, I thought about the sadness and devastation I would feel on that dreadful day when, years from now, she is old and in great pain from advanced age. On that day I would have to decide whether to let her live-on in her pain–selfishly–or have her put down at the local veterinary clinic where she goes and is comfortable in. I pre-lived what I thought about that awful day. In my mind’s eye, I could see Dixie must have known why she was going there. She somehow knew I was taking her to see the vet so he could make her pain go away.

    In my thoughts, as I carried her broken and pain-wracked body into the inner room of the clinic, Dixie looked up lovingly at me with her big brown eyes, eyes that told me: “It’s okay, Poppy. Don’t feel sad for me. We have had many years of playing ball together, of cuddling up when it was cold outside, of seemingly knowing each other’s inner-most thoughts as we looked into one another’s eyes, and of feeling protected when you held me in storms. Please don’t cry for me. I’ll know what you’re doing is out of great love for me, and I will see you again one day.”

    Those were my thoughts as I watched, in my mind’s eye, the doctor push the syringe containing deadly chemicals into my precious little Dixie’s fragile body. As her eyes closed for the last time, I could see the expression of joy on her face. Did she see herself running and playing once again as she took her last breath? Did she?

    Someday I’ll hope to have the chance to ask her that question. But for now, sweet and dearest Dixie girl, rest in peace little one, rest in peace.

    Reply
    • Debra johnson

      What a heart breaking yet peaceful story. I know what its like to think about that horrible decision to do that to your pet, your family. I have had to do it twice in my life so far, both as a teen. Writing does tend to help get those feelings out.

      Reply
  8. PJ Reece

    We’re compelled, we don’t have a choice, it’s what we do — but WHY? We’re not talking of technical writing, or most non-fiction, are we? But rather FICTION. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we write to drive our protagonists to the HEART of their story. Which is where they undergo the radical change of heart that allows them to escape the baloney that has heretofore run their lives. And likewise writing is so damned hard sometimes that we drive ourselves to that same blessed crisis. Is that why we write? What say ye?

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      PJ, that’s a really good thought, “where they undergo the radical change of heart that allows them to escape the baloney that has heretofore run their lives.”

      And I agree, although we drive our protagonists there, we drive ourselves there as well.

      Reply
  9. Andy90

    Very well written – yes, Writing is a way to express our uniqueness!

    Personally speaking, I also strive to ignite discussions, brainstormings – I would like my readers to think “what would I have done in a similar situation?” and “what can we do to cope with this or that issue?”

    That’s the result I would like to achieve.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Andy, glad you feel that you express your uniqueness with writing too!

      Reply
  10. Iris Kirkland

    Interesting topic. I write because no matter how hard it is. Or how much time it takes, when I am finished it I can read it over and over and over again. Because it is something about the written word. When put together with thought and respect, I am amazed by it. I like the rhythm of it. And I know I can create content in other ways, but this way seems like a classic way of communicating that will never get old.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Totally agree Iris. There is something about writing that will never get old.

      Reply
  11. Debra johnson

    I love this question- “why do we- or better still why do I write?” I have been writing since junior high. I mean other than writing because of school assignments. The first story I ever wrote was in Junior High – High school. But the story I remember most and treasure was as a result of a writing assignment for English class from a story prompt we had been given. “The red chair.” That soon, after I finished school, became a story in a series of mystery stories. It was also a memorial piece as I wrote about memories of my late grandma. I cherish that story.

    But honestly I think writing choose me and has become who I am deep down inside. Because regardless if anyone else reads something I write or not ( and there are pieces I write simply because I want to write something only I enjoy) I am compelled as someone here has already said to write. When I don’t a piece of me is missing or broken until I do write something. Anything. Even if it is only one word… All in all writing helps me figure life out….

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Debra, I agree! Writing chose me & has helped me figure out life ever since.

      Reply
      • Debra johnson

        Funny how that happens isn’t it Kellie? It feels so good when I can sit at my key board or open my Journal/ writing notebook and grab a pen to write…. only another writer would understand that feeling no one else gets. Some folks ask why am I staring into space when I sit with my writing in front of me and am not “doing any writing”. They look at me funny when I say writing why?

        Oh well gotta love em huh ( esp when its family)

        Reply
  12. dougspak

    Kellie, well done. This is a very nice piece, very thoughtful. As I say in the About page of my website Doug Spak Writes: I write because I pretty much can’t do another damn thing with any level of proficiency. It’s a matter of survival. http://www.dougspakwrites.com/about/

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Ha, love that doug. Can’t do another damn thing. I get that. 🙂

      Reply
  13. George McNeese

    Writing is a way for me to express myself. Whether it’s through journaling or through stories, there’s a part of me that bleeds into the page. I can’t imagine not writing. I would drive myself crazy. And I also like creating. And writing is the best way for me to be creative.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      George, I agree that creating is such a unique gift. I love what you say about, “there’s a part of me that bleeds into the page.” Totally resonate.

      Reply
  14. Bruce Carroll

    I’ve only just figured out what I am about to share. I have discovered a great secret about storytelling. Compelling stories are about SUCCESS vs. FAILURE.

    In most stories, the protagonist wins in the end. (We all like a happy ending, after all.) Even if the protagonist has to make a huge sacrifice, he or she succeeds in reaching the goal.

    In some stories, the protagonist fails. Despite his or her best efforts, the hero loses in the end.

    In either case, it is important to keep the tension between SUCCESS and FAILURE. If the protagonist has an easy time achieving the goal, we don’t have a story (at least, not a very interesting one). If, on the other hand, the protagonist is overwhelmed by impossible odds, we also don’t have a story. If your protagonist is going to succeed in the end, there must be enough working against him/her that the reader realizes he/she might fail. If you have a tragic ending, in which the protagonist fails, there must be some hope that he/she might succeed. It’s that TENSION which keeps us turning the pages, the not knowing which way the story will go.

    This is why the deus ex machina is disliked by so many readers. If a character the reader has never met appears in the last chapter and saves (or ruins) the day, the reader is left feeling the struggle was all in vain. At best it was somebody else’s story, and a story we only got to see the end of at that. No, if our character is going to win, he/she must rely on his/her own strength. If the character is to fail, it must be because of his/her own flaws.

    So, why do we write? We write to SUCCEED! Not to become a bestselling author or to earn millions (although few of us are saying “no” to those options), but because the human condition is about STRUGGLE. We struggle in the workplace. We struggle with our families. We struggle with our own doubts and fears. Struggle is the conflict between success and failure, and by writing we can explore the struggles that make all of our lives, well, life.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Love these thoughts Bruce! The tension and struggle are my favorite, but often hardest parts to write. You do a great job explaining those. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
      • Bruce Carroll

        Anytime, Kellie. Remember, just keep throwing things at your protagonist. It can be something the antagonist does, but you can also throw in a natural or man-made disaster, or even the protagonist’s own doubts and fears. When you finally have so many your protagonist can’t possibly succeed, then either stop adding obstacles (and write a story in which your protagonist almost succeeds, but fails) or take away one obstacle (not necessarily the last one you added).

        Reply
  15. Kristin Rivers

    I know for certain I write because it’s the best way I express myself. Yes, I take nature photos, I sing, play the piano once in a while (keep forgetting to make time for it) but there’s something with writing that I never could explain. I’d write and whatever feelings I’d kept inside, would come out. It’s been therapeutic, cathartic and, at times, awestruck at the feelings I sometimes hide. Inspiring people, finding purpose have also been other reasons I write. But, ultimately, it’s the space that belongs to ME.

    The one no one but myself and God can touch.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Kristin, I agree that we get to know ourselves even better through the process of writing. Feelings and thoughts we had forgotten or not realized about ourselves flood out in our writing. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  16. Carol51

    I write to make myself happy, it is a kind of compulsion. I get lost in my writing. The world outside no longer exists. You’re in the story, you are the story. Once I used to paint pictures, the same feelings existed there too, but then I turned to writing. Writing is like painting. You just paint with words instead of oils colours. I am an introvert always have been. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to people, but I do guard my quiet time.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Carol, I love that you write to make yourself happy. There is a pureness that comes from writing like that. I used to paint too. Such a great connection.

      Reply
    • TerriblyTerrific

      Awesome. Happy painting.

      Reply
  17. TerriblyTerrific

    Good article! I write because I want others to see what I see, feel what I feel, and, know what I know. And, this article is correct that you may be, indeed, the only one who can expree those things. I do hope my writing reaches others in a way that no one else does. That would put me on top of the Universe. For now, I am reaching for the planets, and stars. Yes!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Love this! It is a strange thing to think that we might be the only ones who can see things in a certain way. Believe that & write that way.

      Reply
      • TerriblyTerrific

        Gold star for you.⭐

        Reply
  18. Anh Nguyen

    Kellie,

    Why do we write? This is a question I often ask myself. As a blogger, I don’t always write poetic words or stories, but what you said resonated with me, too. I write because it helps me narrow my focus, it helps me move forward.

    There are a lot of times also that I would write for myself, or write for the ones I long for, unsent letters. Thanks for this post, I’ve been searching all over for someone to answer this question, I love your genuineness.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,
    Anh

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Anh,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Glad you resonated with it. I also think our “why” might be everchanging, but these basics will remain. I also think writing helps me move forward too. Thanks for your insight.

      Reply
  19. Lola Palooza

    It’s like a bright magenta-coloured rose unfurling itself from a paper napkin, no?
    It just is. Bursting forward from nothing and growing and growing and living and breathing and aching to be told. You watch it happen in your head. You write it. It’s a little slice of joy and a present to yourself for the day.
    Happy birthday everyone!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Thanks for sharing this Lola. I resonate with that 🙂

      Reply
      • Lola Palooza

        Thanks for the reply. It was just an image which came into my mind when I thought about an idea, or a story happening. It always starts off so small and just grows and takes on a life of its own. A living, breathing, beautiful thing.
        I’m quite glad somebody liked it. I read he comment back to myself and thought, ‘That sounds nuts.’

        Reply
  20. Glorie Meixell

    I especially identified with the first point as to why we write. I’ve gone through a lot in life, and the points where I didn’t write through the pain and problems were the worst for me. But if I was hurting, if things were falling apart, and I sat down at my computer and let things flow from my brain to my fingertips, it was like taking a cold shower on a hot day. I felt refreshed and on the brink of normalcy. Writing is a cure-all, thank you for today’s post!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Glorie, agreed. I could never have processed or made it through life’s ups and downs without it. Also, it’s a lot better for everyone else who has to deal with me. 😉

      Reply
  21. Abigail Clark

    Writing has become a part of who I am. After not writing something for a while, I can start to feel restless – it’s like I experience withdrawal symptoms. I think that the more we write, the more it becomes a part of our lives and who we are. We basically put a part of our soul into everything we write, it becomes addictive at one point. When is that point? I’m not sure. But it happens somewhere and once we cross that glorious, addictive, ecstatic line . . . there’s not going back.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Abigal, I totally get that. I think there’s some threshold you cross where there’s no going back. Not sure when or how it happens, but it does.

      Reply
  22. Irene Fenswick

    I write because it is the easiest way for me to express my thoughts. I do not like to speak a lot, and sometimes I feel like words just do not come to me when I am speaking. But when I write, it is entirely different. I especially love the feeling when my pen is touching a clean piece of paper and when new words appear on the sheet. Writing is my everything, and I just cannot imagine me doing anything else.

    Reply
  23. Reagan Colbert

    Beautiful. This is a truly amazing post, Kellie. I actually wrote a similar post (not like this, though!) of why we write. I write because I can’t not write. Because writing is me, and it’s who I was called to be. I simply can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t write.
    I too am amazed at where I am, that I can actually say “Hey, I’m an author.”
    I write because it is the only way I can share who I am, and because I “Don’t know what I think until I read what I said.”
    And I never really thought of it like that before, but yes, I do feel like what you said: What if I’m the only one who sees this, or thinks like that? What if God gave me something to share, and no one else ever hears it?
    So I write.
    Through it, I have found who I am. I look at myself before I started writing years ago, and I am a completely different person. God changed me when He called me to write, and I write because I know these words are His, and if I let Him, He can change someone else through me.
    And I’m simply here because it’s where I ended up, because words are the greatest thing in the world.
    So I write.
    (not sure if this was exactly 15 min, but it’s my inspiration. Thanks for this post, Kellie!)

    Reply
  24. Ethan Miller

    Writers often see what the rest of the world doesn’t.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writing Links Round Up 9/5-9/10 – B. Shaun Smith - […] Why Do We Write? […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

19
Share to...