No, really, why do you write?

I write fiction; if you write non-fiction, most of what I’m going to say won’t apply to you. Why do you write? I’m sure you’ve been asked that question. You’ve probably given an answer.  I have—more than one—but those were quasi-truths. At the time, my answers were valid. I just hadn’t put enough thought into the question.

These things I’ve always known:

  • I don’t write because I have to. Writing is not the reason for my existence. Nor do I need to support myself.
  • I don’t write because I have some great message for the world.
  • I don’t write because I think I’m a better writer than 90% of those published.

So, why do I write?

  • I do write to entertain myself.
  • I do write because I like playing with words. Seriously.
  • I do write to clear some of these stories out of my head.

But, for me, the real question is why do I write what I write? Why are all my stories character-driven? Why are they all set in the real world (or real world plus a supernatural element)? Why are they mostly dark?

What the heck am I trying to work out?!

That’s what it comes down to for me. I write because I’m trying to figure out something. I’m searching for an answer.  Maybe more than one.  Probably more than one. Or am I just trying to discover the questions? I might not be ready for the answers yet.  Hmmm … I must keep writing.

So, tell me—really—why do you write?

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36 thoughts on “No, really, why do you write?

  1. I’m not really sure. I never do anything until I’m 100% certain in the deepest core of my brain that it is something I want. I didn’t date anyone till I met my husband. (Poor guy. I’m sure he didn’t know what hit him.) I didn’t buy a horse till I was no longer a teen and certain it wasn’t a crazy teen love for horses. I didn’t pick up the pen until four years ago.

    I’m not sure why I did.

    I know the desire was there long before I started. I read writing books, hovered over critique sites, looked at magazines, but never wrote myself. Nothing in particular spurred me. There was no reason. Just a desire. I’m glad I followed that desire.

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    1. I am not nearly as cautious as you, A.M.. Except for being a mother, I doubt I’ve ever been 100% sure I wanted anything. But I did wait a long time to start writing seriously. I had years of “serials” in my head before I wrote anything down, and now I don’t seem to be able to stop either. 🙂

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  2. I’m nowhere near so reflective or cautious – if it looks good, interesting, possible, (nearly possible), I’m in up to my neck! No long lead-in or careful scrutiny of the area. No examination of the requirements (well, not unless there’s an application form which kinda presses your nose against it). Not even much thought about whether I have the skills or not. Looks good, I’m in!
    It hasn’t always been like that, I must admit. Growing up in a male-dominated, working class world where girls aspired to be secretaries and then wives, escaping to art college was about as good as it got. But there must be something about surviving that social repression and dull lack of ambition that wafted a spark to life and sent me kicking my own ass into whatever got thrown at me thereafter.
    So, I write (fiction) because I want to. I have stories and I want to tell them. I want to be good at it too and I’ll work at that. Mostly though, I want to write something people would like to read and thereby add a little to someone else’s experience that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, then I’ll have a quiet little smile to myself.

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    1. Believe it or not, I’ve never been asked this question, Linda. So I wasn’t sure how to respond, but then I read about Suzanne’s experience. It’s eerily similar to mine … male-dictated environment where women should be seen and not heard (perhaps there’s something about voice there!), aspire to be secretaries or teachers and then wives (and ideally not in that order).

      And now that Suzanne has put it into words for me (thanks) — I write fiction because I want to, and agree that perhaps the repressed environment enflamed a creative drive. I’ve devoured novels and stories all my life, I think stories reflect and shape and define our existence.

      Like you, Linda, I write character-driven fiction and I hope that people will gain by experiencing a world through the mind, experiences and soul of another.

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      1. That’s the thing, Cathryn, sharing the mind and soul. I think most of us have been prolific readers all our lives, but do you ever wonder how much of who you’ve become was shaped by what you read? A good deal of my “society” has always consisted of fictional characters. That gives me pause when I think of what I’m writing.

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      2. I remembered suddenly quite recently that, at the age of 28 and taking charge of an intensive care unit (open heart surgery and all that) at night, I couldn’t rent a TV without my dad’s signature. He lived 300 miles away and could have been a criminal but being male was all that mattered. Worse, I wasn’t incensed, that came later with a book called ‘I’m not a feminist but..’. By that time I was a multi postgraduate so I’d escaped. I think, as far as writing fiction is concerned, I’m lucky to have less need to succeed than most because I’ve had (still having, actually) a very successful career which includes factual publications. I’ve proved myself beyond my own expectations so I don’t have crises of confidence or episodes of self doubt in quite the same way. That said, I think it’s fair to say that I don’t take on anything I don’t think I can do so you won’t see me tackling petit point any time soon! I love language, and I love telling stories, whether these are fantasised or factual. When other people can do that too, what a world we have at our disposal to learn from and lose ourselves in. Writers do what others can’t so we should get on and do it. However duff we think it might be (and usually it isn’t), it might shed a light into someone’s darkest corner and give them a little moment of relief. Or just a jolly great hoot at the fact that they could have done it far, FAR, better!

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        1. Wow. Okay, I take it back, I didn’t grow up in the same society.

          Yes, we should share our stories. The desire is there; the means may not be. Well, at least not on a widespread basis. I could just share everything I write here on my blog and hope the person(s) who would benefit from it will find it. I’d prefer to have wider distribution, but who knows what I’ll be offered.

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    2. I grew up in the same society as you, Suzanne, but with a domineering mother, so I think that gave me a different perspective. Of course, I’ve never been in a workplace situation like you and Cathryn; I did become “just” a wife and mother. To be honest, the only one who’s ever stifled me, was me.

      I write because I need to express something, but I’m not sure what, or even if I’m succeeding. I want to be published to prove something. I need the first; I want the second.

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      1. I think that’s the most difficult position to come from. While the rest of the world can glow over the value of motherhood (and who doesn’t know that really?), the fact is, it doesn’t take uniqueness of any sort and unique is what makes a writer. I would want to prove something too.

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        1. Hmmm … I think I gave the wrong impression. I do NOT see the roles I chose as inferior. Yes, there’s nothing unique about becoming pregnant and giving birth, but it does take a certain uniqueness to be a good mother. I have no doubts about my worth as a person. The only thing I want to prove by getting published is that I can write.

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  3. As a child, it was an escape, much the same as books, from my chaotic home life. As I grew up, it became a way for me to put onto the characters what I was feeling so I had a way to express myself. All of my stories were dark, with supernatural content as well, and usually remain so. And then came the day when, though it was not so important that I have this outlet for my emotions, I simply could not stop myself from writing. I’m not sure why I do it these days. All that I know is that I can’t stop.

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    1. Yes, Hannah, I feel the same about why I both read and wrote as a child. And I don’t think we can help but put our thoughts and feelings into our characters, mix and match, usually, so none of them are us, but all of them are us.

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  4. You know, I have no idea why I write. I don’t do it out of compulsion — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that, if you can stop writing you should because real writers can’t stop. It’s a compulsion, a need.

    I can tell you I wrote even when I didn’t know I was writing. When I discovered blogging I couldn’t get going fast enough. Before that, I emailed my wife long “editorial” pieces for a magazine she and I dreamed of starting one day. Before that I wrote technical documentation and instructional pieces for my job … which no one asked for or wanted.

    I’ve always been writing, and now I understand how much I love it. But I can’t tell you why I do it. I know I don’t do it strictly for myself — if someone doesn’t read what I wrote I start twitching and rocking wild-eyed in a corner, and chase people down. “Hey, c-can you r-read this f-f-for m-me?”

    Maybe someday I’ll know. But for now, I’m just content to know I do it. and will continue to do it as long as I can con someone into reading what I write. 🙂

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    1. Well, Dane, though I do need to write for myself, I admit I wouldn’t mind sharing it. I go back and forth on whether I want to actually be published … but then that’s probably fear that I won’t be.

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      1. I think I share that vacillation with you, Linda. I’m constantly tearing my hair out over whether to pursue it or not. I haven’t really tried yet and can’t see NOT trying before I make that decision, but the new frontiers of publication tempt me like a giant hot dog in the sky.

        And I’m afraid I won’t be published too, and that would mean I’m either not good enough or not lucky enough and not knowing which was the case will certainly leave me in a rubber room.

        🙂 Great questions, great post. Thanks for the food for thought.

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  5. Good questions. The one that stuck out for me is “Why do you write what you write?”.
    I had to think about that. I write love stories, love stories where couples have to overcome great obstacles to be together. If I had to analyze this, I would say it’s because of my upbringing. My parent divorce when I was young, then remarried, and then divorce again, and then divorce again…I could go on but I’ll spare you.
    I guess I think it’s important to teach MYSELF that people can overcome things and stick it out. So I write about people overcoming things and sticking it out.

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    1. I can understand that, Dayner. And though the connection between the situations I write about and anything in my life is not so clear cut as yours, I do believe I’m working something out. I also think I need to examine my writing closer. 🙂

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      1. It only became clear cut after you asked the question. I never thought about it before. 🙂 Thanks for that, I think.
        If you would have asked before I would have simply said, I write love stories because I like to read love stories.

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  6. Provocative question, Linda. Unfortunately, my answer won’t be as interesting, but it will be honest. Does that count? 😉

    I DON’T write for any of the following reasons:

    I have or need to. I have some grand idea that my thoughts are more valuable than others are. I’m not deluded into thinking I can sway public opinion, or offer solutions to the world’s problems. God knows I don’t I think my skill with the pen is something the world should experience. Meaning I especially don’t think I’m the least bit qualified to write professionally, but everyone has the right to pursue a hobby and if something comes of that, well, so be it.

    I DO write for all of the following reasons:

    Because it’s better than having an affair on the days when my life needs a little excitement. Because I find that less people look at you strange when you write in public than when you talk to yourself. Because it is fun. Because creating worlds and alternate realities has a way of making you appreciate the one you live in. Because I love to learn and the discovery of new connections one can make through writing supply and endless arena for lifelong learning. Most of all, I want to learn how to master language with a skill and understanding that far surpasses my current level. Because words and thoughts set us apart from most other animal species and I can think of no grander way to celebrate being human.

    I write simply because I want to and because I can.

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    1. Excellent answers, Trista. Honesty always counts. 🙂

      I’ve never thought it important to know why I write, but I’ve changed my mind. If you only write to be published, and it appears you won’t be, then there’s no longer any reason for you to write. Right? But if you have other reasons for writing, then you can’t quit writing until you’ve fulfilled those reasons.

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  7. I started writing because I had a story that came to me in a HUGE massive ephiphany that made me see I was made to write it. Everything in my life had lead to me writing this. I was the perfect vessel and the character who came to me, to tell me his story had chosen me because nobody else could tell his story. Sounds crazy, I know but I have never felt like I “created” him or his story. It’s always felt like he has told it to me. So I write, because it is important to me, his story is known. If it wasn’t for him, I would not be writing. He is what motivates me. Again, I know this sounds a bit bizarre…

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      1. I plan to write a sequel to my current novel. My boy features in at least 3 more novels. Me thinks, he’s going to end up being like my own Sherlock Holmes 😉

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  8. Great questions! I asked something similar to this on The Literary Lab yesterday, and there were some interesting responses. I write to tell stories and share them. I like to see how different people react to how I put things down on a page. It’s fascinating, and sometimes there’s just stories bursting to get out. 🙂

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  9. And the really great thing is that we can put it out there in a way our predecessors could never have imagined. It may be harder to get paid to write but it’s a great deal easier to get read.

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  10. Hello, I would like to invite you to join; The Poetic Voice Community. It is a writer’s site where you can enter contests – add poetry and get feedback. The latest entries are listed on the blog posts. Click on link, and check us out! Then join, and post.

    Website: http://poeticvoice.ning.com/

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