Why do we write? Nonfiction and fiction writing has been an instrumental way for people to connect to one another in the real world.
Stories are about change, and by reading and watching them we, ourselves, can change for the better.
But do people write for different reasons, and are some of those reasons more meaningful than others?
Are you sitting at your computer right now, possibly plunging through your first draft (or much later draft), and debating whether or not a writing career is the one for you?
Do you wonder if the written word is how you’ll make your mark on the world—and if it is, is a writing career what you want in life?
Why Telling and Sharing Stories Matters
It’s safe to say there are more writers now than at any other time in history.
At the beginning of my writing career, I went to the AWP conference in Chicago, eager to learn and excited to start making connections with other writers. There were 10,000 other writers there. That was one conference years back.
Back when I first wrote this post, in 2012, the amount of creative writing programs at universities had exploded from about 50 in the 1980s to over 300 just in the US. There were over 110 million bloggers running their own blogs.
In 2021, I’m sure the numbers shave only increased.
That’s a lot of competition.
Seriously though, why do we write? Why are all of us pursuing writing in the face of the increasingly limited attention spans of the broader public?
It’s not like we’re making much money at it, if any.
What motivates us to keep going? How does writing make a positive difference in our own life, and in the lives of those around us?
4 Reasons Why We Write
Whether or not we’re writing short stories for a high school assignment, finishing novels that we self-publish on Amazon, or writing full-time with the success of notable authors like Stephen King (wouldn’t that be amazing?), we write for many reasons.
However, there are four main reasons for why I write. I wonder if these will resonate with you:
1. To Be Alive
We write to be fully alive.
Sir Ken Robinson says:
The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.
The act of writing draws us into the moment. We see the blades of grass, hear the sharp chirp of the morning cricket, watch the shade travel from one edge of the yard to the other, seemingly for the first time.
Writing helps us make art out of everyday, ordinary moments.
With each piece of writing, we’re invited to see the world from a fresh perspective.
We seize an opportunity to ground ourselves in a point of view that can be our own—or that of a new character. One who waits eagerly to teach us something special about ourselves and our potentials.
Writing gives us a surplus of moments to really sympathize with a person, explore a world, and learn from a story in a way that reminds us what really matters in life.
We engender a growth mindset through writing—and writing deeply.
A writing life is rich with truth and adventures that bring our very beings to life.
2. To Make a Name for Ourselves
George Orwell says one motivation to write is sheer egoism, that we write out of the “desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.”
That’s part of it, but I think the motivation goes much deeper than being well-liked in the present moment.
If you’re being honest, you would agree that it would be nice to live forever. But if you can’t live forever physically, then why can’t your memory live forever?
We’re still talking about Chaucer, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, and George Elliott long after their deaths. Why not you?
While this might not be the most unselfish of motivations, it’s certainly natural. Writers who share their stories build a legacy that will also beyond their lifetimes.
Writing lets us make a mark on the present world and future generations—if writers have the courage to print their stories on paper, and then pass it on to a reader.
And, with some luck, that readers passes that story on to another reader, who passes it on again.
3. To Change the World
People consume now more than ever in the history of the world.
We eat more, we listen to more music, and we consume more information. However, we’ve also learned enough about consumerism to know it won’t make us happy.
Writing gives us a chance to turn the tides on consumerism. Rather than consume more, we can make something.
Instead of fueling destruction, we empower creation. Isn’t that exciting?
Every day, when you put your fingers to the keys, you’re creating something. And then, with the click of button, you can share it with the world.
Humans have a built in need to make our mark on the world. We want to bring new things to life, to mold things into the image we have in our imaginations, to subdue the earth.
We write not just to change the world, but to create a new world.
And with each new world, new possibilities.
New stories, which not only complete the circle of life but enrich it.
4. To Discover Meaning
The psychiatrist Victor Frankl posited that the main search of mankind is not happiness or pleasure but meaning. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose,” he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning.
Writers are uniquely gifted to find meaning for themselves and to help others find meaning.
In fact, this has always been the main task of storytellers. Every story matters to the person living it, and our job is to tell the universal stories, the stories that reveal the story of every person on the earth.
We write to bring meaning to the world.
That goal isn’t synonymous with writing a best seller on the New York Times list—although, wouldn’t that be nice?
You never know whose life your story could change.
That’s why, deep down, we, as writers, understand that it’s important to not only start but finish what we write.
We All Have Stories to Tell
Regardless of how many copies of a book you sell, stories share meaning and messages with patterns, and those patterns are absorbed and retained by people reaching out to the world for answers.
Each of our lives is a precious story in itself. And each of of us has an unlimited amount of stories to tell.
I hope that you will write your stories down for us.
What do you think? Why do you write, and why are there so many people writing today? Let us know in the comments.
Today, spend some time free writing.
As you write, contemplate your motivations. Are they pure enough to keep you going despite everything?