Hang out in writer circles on this interweb thing for long enough and you’ll hear all the classic reasons people write. Because they’re bursting with stories that are screaming to be told, because they have something to say to the world, because writing keeps them sane in insane times.
Reading these reasons, it’s easy to feel inadequate.
If I don’t write for the same reasons does it mean I’m not a real writer? I’m not filled with stories wriggling inside me like intestinal worms. Does that mean I’m just making stuff up?
I like to think it’s the writing that counts, not the reasons behind it. If you write a stunning story that people love it doesn’t matter if it was driven by a stormy-eyed muse in a flowing chiton or by industrial quantities of coffee and a hard chair.
It matters only how much you enjoy the writing and how much your readers enjoy the reading.
So let me first explain three reasons that are not why I write.
Things that are not reasons why I write
1. The stories inside me are gnawing their way out
I’ve been alive for a while and I’ve done stuff, so you could say I have stories inside me. But none of them are stories that should be written. They’re badly plotted, full of coincidence and unsatisfying endings, and stuffed to the brim with self-indulgent rumination that’s as dull as swamp water.
And don’t even get me started on the characters.
The untold stories inside me aren’t clamouring to get out. Even if I walk away from writing for a week or a month, they don’t multiply inside me until they rip out of my chest like Alien spawn.
They’re sleeping inside me, and that’s exactly where they’re going to stay.
2. The world must hear my message
It’s wonderful if you have a message, so long as it doesn’t eclipse the story.
Unlike many writers, I don’t have a message that I’m burning to share with the world. I’m not struggling to overcome deep trauma or inner porcupines or to right a social wrong.
The book I’m working on isn’t a thinly veiled autobiography (thank goodness, because that would be terribly dull).
I don’t start writing a story hoping to convey a world-changing truth–like smoking is bad, more people should worship hedgehogs, or we need to wake up to the fact dolphins are our masters.
But I do have beliefs about how the world is and how it should be, and I expect some of them will slither their way into my writing as my subconscious works. I hope that will be enough.
3. Writing keeps my insanity at bay
If this works for you, great. Personally, exercise does more for my mental state than writing does.
Besides, sanity is overrated.
So if these aren’t the reasons I write, what are the reasons?
Why I write
1. To experience being someone else
What do a spy, an actor, and a reader have in common? They all get to be someone else.
I’d make a terrible spy because I suck at lying and I can’t act to save my kindle, but I’m pretty darn good at reading. I know all the letters and I can read most words without sounding them out. Not only am I good at reading, I also enjoy it.
My favourite books are ones that transport me. I am the main character. I get to live his life, experience the wonders of his world, and overcome the challenges he conquers. His triumphs are my triumphs.
I get all the fear, excitement, and joy and none of the dangers.
This is probably why I like fantasy. If you’re going to live someone else’s life, why not make it a fantastical one? Fight in a battle, perform magic, and soar on a dragon.
Writing gives me the same, only more. I get to create the characters from nothing, journey with them for longer, and see more deeply into their souls.
2. To worship beautiful prose
The only thing more satisfying than reading a gorgeous piece of prose is writing one. And possibly reading it again, having written it.
Sure, more of my writing is ugly than beautiful, but when I do come up with an evocative sentence it gives me chills, and with every revision less of my writing becomes terrible and more becomes good.
3. Writing is fun
At the end of the day, I have fun writing. Isn’t that reason enough?
Of course, I hope my writing will transport other people, and I try to edit with the reader in mind, but first I write for my own enjoyment.
Does it matter why someone writes? If you write, why do you do it?
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