Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I Write

Weronika posed this question at her blog today, along with two essays by famous writers who answered that very question. Weronika's challenge for those of us who write was to answer the question as well.

Why do I write?

I know so many people who say they write because they have to. I wonder if it makes me not a true-heart-writer that this isn't true of me. I've spent most of my life writing in some form or another, I guess. Middle school and high school I journaled nearly daily, with much poetry thrown in for good teen measure. And in college I took so many elective classes in writing that I ended up with an "option" in it.

But there have been years where I didn't write. Not short stories, not poems, not even journals. I was too tired. Too up to my eyeballs in spitup and diapers and scraped knees and playgrounds. There were years where the highest level reading I accomplished was "Good Night Moon" and "How Much Do I Love You," read over and over and over until I was speaking them in my sleep.

Those years, I didn't write. So I know it's possible not to write.

So why do I write? It isn't for the money, for sure! It isn't for fame or notoriety. I'm actually more comfortable letting people assume I'm a stay-at-home mom with no other vocation than to speak up and say that I'm a published author. I don't have characters talking to me in my head until I've already well-pushed them down their plotline. I don't write for catharsis. It's not always fun. It's often hard.

I do have stories flitting through my head constantly. I see people and wonder what makes them tick. Where are they off to? Why are they smiling that way, or mad at the world? I read news articles and think how I could develop it into a novel. When I read books, I think about how, with a single small change the entire story could take another turn.

And yet I don't write most of those stories.

So I found myself asking today, why in the world do I write?

For one, because I love it. Even when it's hard, or when it's not fun, I love it. There's few things I'd rather do than sit and create stories and watch characters evolve. In a sense, it's like creation. Yesterday there were no people... today there are. I make up towns and coffee shops and conversations that are so much more elegant or snappy than ones I can have myself. One a story gets started, for me, it becomes a sort of reality, as if those characters are real people who I can care for and love and worry about. So even though I don't need to write stories to live and breathe, I do love it.

But I think even more the question for me is not so much why do I write, but why do I write what I write?

I write what I write to make a difference to people. To let someone know they aren't alone in their experiences. To make people see a new perspective, to see something from another point of view they might not otherwise see. I write with the hopes that people will talk and debate and have conversations about what they've read. It doesn't matter if you agree or not; but that it makes you think.

There was a point two years ago, before I sold my first book, when I said to myself that I didn't care if I became a huge success or sold a lot of book or made enough money to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate that milestone. I just wanted to make a difference to one person. If I changed one person's life, if I made one person stop and think and feel like they were understood or suddenly understood someone else, then that was success to me.

Today, when considering this post, I wondered if that was enough anymore. I've had readers write and tell me I did make a difference in their lives, and there's nothing better to hear for me. But still.... if I don't sell a certain amount of my debut book, I won't get another publisher willing to take a risk on another book. It's important to sell books, and write books that sell, not just for me but for those people who invest in the process as well: agent and editors and publishers need to do more than make a difference in one person's life. They need to make money; and as an author, my job is to help them do that. So, my own version of success could mean ultimate failure.

So is it enough? Is making a difference to one person, and then letting the dream go, enough?

And if I say it is, does that mean I'm not a true writer in my soul? If I can be content with following another career path should things not work out, does that make me less ambitious? Less deserving of that publication?

I can't imagine not writing right now. But I'm hoping also to get a masters degree that will allow me to teach at the college level, or be an editor, or do something to do with writing and books that doesn't just mean creating my own stories.

In the end, though, I'm a fairly content person. There's very few things I need: God, my family, basic survival necessities like food and a shelter. So do I need to write to keep living and breathing? No. But I sure do love doing it, and as long as I am able to make it a priority, I will.


  1. I think the answers to your questions depend entirely on you and the ultimate goal of yours. What that is, I'm not sure.

    Thanks for participating, and great post, Heidi. :-)

  2. "But there have been years where I didn't write. Not short stories, not poems, not even journals. I was too tired"

    This heartens me, because I haven't written very much this year, and sometimes feel like giving up. I'm also not in the "have to write" camp and feel very much in the minority in that regard.

    Also, I responded to your comment on my blog.


  3. I think it is inevitable that, after the first published, 'from the heart' book (and after the 'wow' I did it), the second book is written with the business of writing in mind. I believe it is part of the journey, but by staying in integrity through writing what YOU want to write, you keep your writing soul along the way.
    And, like strugglingwriter, it heartened me to read about your non-writing years.' Thanks for sharing.

  4. Oh yeah I totally had those years when no writing happened. It was hard because I am one of those "have to write" freaks. It's like a safety valve. I let out some stories and then I'm ok for awhile. But man, when you're sleep deprived and up to your elbows in baby stuff... yeah.

    I do believe what all writers have in common is what I call the Writer's Brain. You see something that sparks a story, and your imagination starts on the What If, and you memorize an interesting person's features or the way the light changes a room, and you're off. You can't help it.

    I say, go with it!!!

  5. I write because it takes me to another world, just like reading does only better because I understand every word, every moment, every gesture.
    Also, because I love telling stories. I hope that if I'm ever published, I'm known for my stories and for my unforgettable characters.

  6. I think I'm in the same camp as you. It wouldn't kill me not to write. I would go on with life. In fact, I did during the same years as you, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to.

    Of course days go by where I do nothing, but then I'll hit a day and write 2000 words and think, wow, I love writing.

  7. I loved your reasoning and you made me think because I write for pretty much the same reason--to make a difference in a life. But with that comes the reality that writing is a business for someone and we need to join hands with that if we want our reasons to see fruit.

  8. Lovely post, H!

    (I bought your's in my huge TBR pile!)

    I write because I don't know what else to do...

    I've taught reading and writing, I've volunteered, I've cleaned, I've cooked, I've even scrap booked...But when it comes down to it...I just want to write something good enought that a kiddo will want to read it over and over again. :)

  9. Excellent post. You definitely have me thinking...

    Oh yeah, I'm a new follower. Hi!