Why do we write?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write, or why I started writing in the first place, because over time, these two concepts may diverge. An insidious thing can happen: you can lose sight of what you love about the act, and get caught up in the business of writing: wanting to make your first pro sale, getting your pitch ready for the agent you might meet at a convention, creating an online presence and brand, providing product to your readers on a predictable and timely basis, agonizing over your prose and structure in hopes of attracting critical acclaim, etc. But these things aren’t why we started writing originally, are they? And, for me, they can threaten to rob the act of joy, at times making it downright angst-ridden and painful. It starts to feel a whole lot more like work—though to be fair, writing is some people’s job and I hope one day it will be my job, too, in which case I’ll just have to suck it up and accept the work-like aspects, but at least then I’ll be getting paid. Nevertheless, at this point I think it’s useful to step back and reevaluate why it is that I’m drawn to this art form, and why I should be grateful it’s something I get to do.

So…here it is. I write because:

Story ideas occur to me all the time, everywhere.

I think up interesting characters I care about and want to get to know better.

Creating realistic, fully formed, logically consistent, and plausible worlds is a challenge.

I like drawing maps (though I’m not good at it!).

I learn interesting new things while researching.

It is sometimes cathartic, allowing me to work through issues I haven’t in other ways.

It sharpens my powers of observation in everyday life. I more carefully consider and note body language; quirky manners of dress, appearance, and speech; social interaction; motivation; intention; inequality.

It allows me to empathize with people who are different from me in various ways.

Magic!

Critters!

To touch, or amuse, or engage readers.

I get to hang out with and talk to other writers and creative people, who feel like my people.

From the time I was a child I wanted to be a writer, and it’s something I keep coming back to.

Creating something out of nothing is an amazing feeling.

Occasional visits to the zone, that place of furious inspiration where my fingers can’t keep up to my brain, are intoxicating.

It’s fun.

And there are probably others I’ll think of as soon as I post this.

But that last is what it comes down to, isn’t it? It’s fun. Or it should be, at least on some level. Yes we can make money and garner praise and wave our published books around or at least use them for doorstops—if we’re lucky—but really we do it because it allows us to play and create and express, and this is what we love. Or I do, anyway, it’s probably presumptuous to speak for others.

So, in order to stay in touch with this feeling, this passion, I vow to sometimes write just for fun. To not worry about what market I might submit to, what my critique group might say, or whether what I’m writing about is Important. Some stories or even paragraphs have to be just for me, to remind me what being a writer is really about. If I end up selling them, well, that’s just a bonus. If I stop having fun, that’s a true loss.

What about you? Why do you write? How do you stay in touch with your passion for writing?

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  • http://twitter.com/CockleKevin Kevin Cockle

    Not sure I have, or ever had, “passion” for writing – not in the sense that I feel compelled to do it.  I envy writers who have that sort of motivation – that “need” to write.  I came to it relatively late; was not one of these verbal child-prodigies pumping out novels in grade school; do not have stories or characters constantly occurring to me.  If I didn’t actively will myself to be productive, I might not write anything at all, and I usually write with SOME idea of an end-market in mind.
    So the intrinsic act of writing isn’t more fun for me than other things, but it IS fun – and fascinating – to get paid for fiction I’ve produced.  A hundred dollars earned for a story I’ve written doesn’t feel anything like a hundred dollars earned at the office.  There is a qualitative difference, and that’s something that is very difficult for the mainstream economy to understand.  We’re used to thinking a dollar is a dollar – one dollar cannot somehow be worth more than another.  In fact, a market economy DEPENDS upon that notion as a kind of unexamined fact.  But as soon as you sell a vampire story, you have some inkling of the illusion being perpetrated.  The money I earned say, selling carpet cleaning or mutual funds buys the same things, but to say it’s equivalent to vampire-story money just doesn’t feel right or complete.  

    • Erika Holt

      That’s so true! And somehow I don’t begrudge time spent writing, even if on a dollars-earned to hours-worked ratio it pays grossly less than…well almost any other gainful employment.

  • Sandra Wickham

    LOL. Magic! Critters! That’s me. I enjoy my writing the most when I’m having fun and I feel like it’s something I’d really like to sit down and read. :) 

    • Erika Holt

      Totally! It’s the best feeling when your own work makes you laugh or cry.

      • Wendy Wagner

        Me, too! I just love making up crazy new worlds and fun stuff. I’m still, deep down, the kid who wanted to be an astronaut, who wanted to explore places have magic or monsters or weird, odd people. I love making up kids who are as brave as I always wanted to be. I love inventing foods that taste like I wish food could taste. I love picturing a world that has strange physical properties that challenge human life.

        But I also love the feel and taste of words, love to hear how they sound when I say them out loud. I love use them to say something that makes me cry. I think I love that the very, very most.

  • galen dara

    “in order to stay in touch with this feeling, this passion, I vow to sometimes write just for fun”

    This is pivotal for me. Sometimes I do illustration work that is ‘just a job’. I love that I am getting work as an illustrator, but occasionally the actual process can be grueling.  It’s a different kind of thing from when i sit down with my sketchbook and pen, or (and it’s been waaay too long since I’ve done this) set up an easel and gotten my hands messy with paint. That kind of art making is how I process stuff, dive into my head, explore, etc….

    something I keep telling myself (and am working out the actual details of implementing) is to not get so busy that I forget to make ‘my’ art. (My therapy.)

    But, as something of a happy personal anecdote: the other day I was working on an illustration and one of my kid’s friends came up and watched me while I worked. He thought it was pretty cool and asked me questions about it, then out of the blue he asked “is this fun for you?” I got a big smile and said “yes”. Because, it was.

    • Erika Holt

      Yay! I’m so glad to hear this!

      • galen dara

        <3!  It was particularly nice in this instance, because I have worked on other projects, where if he had asked me the same thing, i'd most likely have grimaced and said “no”.  There have been times when it’s not so fun.

        I’ve asked myself if it’s worth it, before. Feared loosing sight of why i thought I wanted to do this.

        Thank you for this post, Erika!

  • http://www.ravenlunatick.wordpress.com/ catty

    I write because ideas keep coming out of me. I see uneven slices of bread and wonder if the industrial robots at the bread factory are trying to send me a message. Although I find I enjoy *having* written more than I enjoy the actual process of writing.

    • Erika Holt

      Ha! That’s great. With ideas like that you *must* keep writing!

      And…yes. I agree with that statement. :)

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  • Mel Dawn

    I write because I enjoy doing it too. The business side of it I find tedious, so I think that’s why I’m trying my hand at fiction writing now.