Why Do You Write?

I’ve been forced to ask myself this question over the last couple of weeks. Why do I write? What are my ultimate goals? Why do I sit alone everyday for hours at a time staring at my laptop screen, and what do I hope to gain from it? Why do I dredge up experiences I’d rather forget, talk to people who scare me, and endure the blank stares of family and friends who say, “I don’t get it. What do you do?”

Why? What’s your goal?

I’ve been seriously pursuing a career in writing for five or six years now, and by that I mean – sending queries every month, writing every day, learning craft, reading industry blogs and craft books, attending conferences near and far, giving and getting critiques, taking courses and classes online, doing free internships, etc. Why do I do that? Is there a point to that long apprenticeship? What’s my goal at the end of the day?

I think people write for different reasons, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer – just a right-for-you answer. I also think the writing snobs who point fingers at one group or another and say, ‘That means you’re not a real writer’ need to take a giant leap off a short pier.

I want to be published.

What does published mean? If I pay someone to create an ebook or print format of my manuscript, is that published? Does it matter how many people buy that book outside of my mother and her friends? Does it have to be my best work, or just good enough for now? Is listing a book on Amazon or Goodreads mean I’m published? Does just having friends and family read my work mean I’m published? Do I need an agent and royalty-based publisher to consider myself published?

**An aside: I think that if writing a book is on your bucket list and you pay someone to print it and list it on Amazon just so you can say you wrote a book – go for it. But if you’re in this to make a career out of it – heed this caution. It’s become exceedingly easy to press ‘publish’ when you get rejected by one agent, or get negative feedback from a contest or peer. This ‘I’ll show them,’ attitude isn’t a teachable one. Very few get to be company president out of high school – there’s a lot of living and learning and apprenticeship that has to happen before you earn the place at the head of the board room table. Don’t think that just because self-publishing is easily accessible that you can skip that apprenticeship and win the author lotto. That’s a short road to failure.

I just write for me.

Not every writer wants to be published. I know lots of people who attend conferences every year, who read writing blogs, and sit alone and write in their journals, write their own poetry, blog once a week or once a month – just to encourage others. Maybe they use their writing in family Christmas cards, or letters – maybe they just write for their church. Some never intend for anyone to read their work, they just enjoy the hobby of writing.

I need to earn a living writing.

What does that mean? Will you be the sole income earner? The second income earner? What’s your standard of living? One person is content to live in their parents’ basement on $13,000 a year, someone else needs to make $100,000 to be content. And here’s a huge pet peeve for me. Is writing a novel the only way to earn money writing? What about journalism, writing greeting cards, communications work, marketing copy, academic writing? They hire writers to write the dialogue and story lines for video games – does that count? What if all you ever got paid for was covering local high school sports for the small town newspaper?

It drives me completely insane when people ask me, “What do you do?” I say, “I’m a writer.” Then every single person asks, “Oh, have you written a book?”

Gah! Is having a book in my hand the only thing that makes me a writer?Seriously? Don’t get me started.

My immediate goal is to be published by a traditional royalty-based publisher – which means for most publishers I need an agent. My co-writer and I are going through that process now. If that doesn’t work out, we’re going to self-publish. But not until we’ve queried dozens of agents. As well, we’ve gotten feedback on that manuscript from bestselling authors – we’ll be hiring professional editors and cover artists, and there will be bucket-loads of marketing and promotion planned months in advance because I will have a benchmark goal of sales I want to achieve. And while I’m doing that, I’m working on my next book, because my long-term goal is to write full-time growing sales, readership, and community with each work. A company with only one product to sell won’t be successful in the long run – generally. What’s that saying? Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

Once you determine, specifically, what your goals are, look at why you’re writing. Is there a purpose behind it?

I write because at heart I’m a storyteller. It’s just how I’m wired. I see story everywhere. But there’s more to it. I’m also a truthteller. Even when it’s inconvenient, when it sucks, when I don’t want to be – I’m a truthteller. Some people appreciate that about me, some people walk away and say ‘You’re such a talented writer – why can’t you write happy stories with happy endings?’ In other words, TMI. But the artists who are swayed by others opinions struggle to create work that resonates, that’s fresh, that’s compelling – in my opinion. It’s taken a long time for me to be comfortable in my own skin.

When I write, I am always searching out the truth. I want my fiction to resonate, to touch people’s hearts, reveal the history in the myth. With my non-fiction, I strive to authentically tell the stories of people and organizations, get to the heart of the matter. That’s what I want to be known for – what I want my ‘brand’ to represent.

I think of Stephen King – his brand is writing scare-your-pants-off, stay-up-late-with-the-lights-on thrillers and horror fiction. Nora Roberts is known for kick-a$$ female heroines finding love. James Scott Bell is known for writing legal thrillers – even his zombie novels are legal thrillers. One of my favorite authors is Ted Dekker – his brand is fast-paced, don’t-see-it-coming-plot-twists that unmask society and every story is centered on revealing love in a variety of ways. When I pick up a novel by one of those authors – I know exactly what I’m buying.

My cowriter, Marcy is all about hope and redemption.When we write together, our strengths complement each other. Marcy’s stories have a lot of intrigue, are fast-paced, and involve elaborate world-building with intricate plot twists. My writing is gritty, dialogue driven, fast paced, with a lot of action. But the reasons why we write – what we want to be known for – are woven through every scene.

What are your writing goals? Why do you write? Have you gone through this process for yourself – were you surprised at your answers?

Lisa

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Comments

  1. says

    This is something I’ve been thinking about lately too. I used to imagine what I thought the writer’s life would be and even though I haven’t reached the big goal yet, I am living that life now. But I know it’s time to be more specific about how I want to go about publishing. I’m not sure what aspect is important yet though. I think I have to figure out why I’m doing it and move from there. :)
    Coleen Patrick recently posted…What Happens in the Outhouse Doesn’t Always Stay in the Outhouse

  2. says

    Great post Lisa! You nailed it girl!
    A writer is a writer. Does it have to matter what they write? Or where they write? Or if it’s seen or unseen?
    And when you and Marcy are ready to self-publish, let me know. I’ve got your back. If a writer/author has to do most of the work/promoting etc. anyway, self-pub and let go of the headache. Let go of the rejection. If you’re both happy with the end result, so will others. Just sayin’. But it’s your dream that counts! :)
    Karen McFarland recently posted…Anger Can Be Draingerous!

  3. says

    Wow. This is so much of why I write, as well. I love stories, I find myself in them, I find the world. Also, I write because of readers. Because I want little girls to feel the way I felt when I was little … totally immersed in a book. I don’t feel like I have something to say anymore through a story, but I feel like I have characters who have something to say. Their story comes first.
    I loved this post, so thoughtful.

    • says

      Thanks! I agree. Story must come before message – always. If the reader is able to be more than entertained – that’s icing on the cake.

    • says

      I’ve found knowing where you’re going is a big part of the battle – but you must have milestones so you know you’ve arrived too. Thanks!

  4. says

    I’ve been asking myself “why do I write?” a lot lately too. Not sure of the answer, but I love some parts of the creative process. I think I’ve gotten sidetracked by the learning and the rules and am not necessarily writing what I really like. Sounds like an excuse for a mini-hiatus where I write something just for fun. And who knows, that may be the one that sells. No offense, Lisa, but it’ll be a happy-ish story with a happy ending. I love what you said about learning to be comfortable with who you are as a writer. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do, and you’ve given me permission. Thanks for that.
    Janet Sketchley recently posted…Wheel of Time Re-read: The Eye of the World (spoilers)

    • says

      I know what you mean about needing permission. I had that kind of experience recently and it was life and career changing. Do what you’re called to do, give that creative work your very best effort. That should bottom-line be our definition for success in my opinion. Thanks.

  5. says

    Lisa, I agree with you about being careful to self-publish something before it’s ready. There seems to be a lot out there now, and we need the input of other writers, need a good editor (it’s distracting to read a good story but full of typos and bad formatting).

    I see stories in everything, too, or something someone says strikes me as an awesome title for a book! There are ideas everywhere!

    I agree with Karen, don’t be afraid to go the self-pub route. You and Marcy have enough experience and an excellent support system that I think you’ll do fine and actually might be much happier having control over your projects. There are definite drawbacks to traditional publishing. One biggie is when your novel is cancelled. Seems like it happens too often. Best of luck to you whichever way you go with your writing.

    One last thing, I do consider journalism, writing greeting cards, etc. valid writing. I don’t know why people say that to you because these other forms of writing aren’t a piece of cake as far as I’m concerned. They deserve validation, too. And a paycheck!
    Lynn Kelley recently posted…More Altered Art Photo Boxes – Homemade Gifts

    • says

      Thanks, Lynn. Yes, a paycheck is a fabulous perk for being allowed to do what you love to do every day. Thanks for the support.

  6. says

    The line that resonated with me was ‘I write because I’m a storyteller.’

    And that’s it in a nutshell. Storytellers are born and not made – just my opinion and feel free to shoot it down in flames – but I seriously believe that. And there are many types of ‘writers’ out there, I agree. In fact I have two good friends who are medical writers. And I wouldn’t want that job for all the tea in India, China or anywhere else.

    My ‘goal’ is to have a great time telling a story and have a reader tell me she had a great time reading it. My next goal is to write what I want to read and can’t find rather than writing something that’s been read before.
    CC MacKenzie recently posted…Find Friends Who Use WordPress

  7. says

    Lisa -
    Thank to so much for this informational, thought-provoking and personal post. As a beginning blogger and writer, you have provided some excellent questions for me to think about personally and professionally. My goal on my blog is to build a community of people who have encountered bends in their life’s road – life changing experiences that have forced them to follow the different direction that thir life is now going. Communitys help and support each other, and I believe for some, they may not know how to get in touch with a community, especially if they moatly are house-bound.

    As a writer, I am beginning to reflect on my long term goals. I know that without thinking more than 5 years into the future, I am limiting myself now. I have pasted your blog in an Evernote notebook to revisit as I deliberately reflect on my goals.

    Thanks for a great post -
    Monique

  8. says

    What an excellent post. So many important questions a writer needs to think through. I always kept journals, savored writing poetry when inspired and did a little bit of writing here and there, all for myself. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to kick in and write for other people. I think some people don’t want to put their work out there for fear of rejection. With me it took an inspiring incident to prod me to write a novel–expected to be published this year. Great post, thought provoking.

  9. says

    I think you and I are on the same page. I write because I am a story teller. I see stories in everything. It wasn’t always that way. I may have suppressed it. But once I opened the door, it flood through me and I can’t stop. I believe I want to try traditional first for the validation. I don’t want to be the one deciding my work is ready. I’d like others to agree with me. I struggle with all the added extra stuff that comes with it now as the introvert in me wants to crawl into my writer’s cave on a daily basis and work. But I have dedicated myself to the process.
    Debra Kristi recently posted…Lunch Box Envy

  10. says

    I suppose my main answer is, because I feel compelled to. Writing makes me happy, keeps me sane ;) and give me a sense of purpose like nothing else I’ve encountered. Because I’m a big believer in doing what you love (and the financial parts follow), I also have major career goals. That said, I think it’s a lovely hobby for many.
    August McLaughlin recently posted…GOF Moments: Could You Save Your Life?

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