Why do you write?
Have you ever paused to ask yourself that question?
When I was in graduate school, a professor turned that question into an assignment. I saw it for what it was right away: a deceptively difficult question. Like many things, I had fragments of ideas about it in my mind. But trying to turn those ideas loose on the page? Watch out! Answering the question “Why I write” in some ways felt like unleashing a an over-excited dog.
There are many ways to answer that question, “Why do you write?”. You might write to make sense of the world around you. You might write to test different ideas and possibilities through the playground of your imagination, asking over and over again, what if? Maybe you want to connect with other people and share your experiences. Or perhaps you write to create a record of your existence, a way of saying I was here.
The question seems easy, but it’s not. Answering it can feel like trying to hit a moving target. But I want to tell you something: It is a question absolutely worth pursuing, a question worth trying to answer.
How have other writers answered this question?
For decades–heck, for centuries–writers have grappled with this question.
A few years ago, author and book coach Jonathan Gunson posed the question “Why do you write?” in a blog post. More than 350 readers responded. Here are just a few of the responses:
“It’s an affliction. Like a twitch I’m trying to control.”
“Because there is a story on my mind that I have to share with the world.”
“Because what percolates inside deserves a voice.”
“It’s the one thing that has consistently called me, my entire life. It’s also how I make meaning in my world.”
George Orwell, writing a few decades before Didion, believed that writing was part of his true nature. He couldn’t help but write. The real question became what to write and why. He found himself writing politically motivated novels because it connected his drive to write with a larger sense of purpose. Otherwise, his writing felt lifeless.
If you’re like Stephen King, you write “for the pure joy of the thing.”
What would you say? How would you answer the question?
Clearly, there are as many answers to “Why I write” as there are people who take a stab at the question. Coming up with your own answer can seem futile. It can feel pointless as you grasp for words and attempt to put coherent, meaningful thoughts on the page.
But taking the time to think through this question can also give you a greater sense of purpose. It can fuel motivation like it did for Orwell, or offer a sense of clarity like it did for Didion. Allow yourself the space to explore why you write, and you begin to develop a road map, a mission statement.
Then, when you set out to write, you’re more likely to stop making excuses and commit.
I write because I can’t not write. I write to connect people through story and expression. I write because, at its core, writing is about communicating.
When you link your desire to write with a purpose for writing, you’ll have a stronger understanding for why writing is important to you. Maybe the next time life starts to get in the way, you won’t give in to all those excuses not to write.
Are you ready to answer the question, “Why do I write?”
If so, I invite you to join me in an upcoming “Why I Write” live course on Aug. 2. We’ll explore more in depth others’ responses to the question, create road maps together. You’ll come away with your own “Why I Write” piece – and you’ll have an opportunity to seek feedback on it if you wish.
Register here. When you can confidently assert what makes you a writer and boldly state why you write, the words and the ideas you put out there will have a clearer sense of direction.