Why do you write?

Bear with me kids. I’m going to make you do the heavy lifting on my blog entry this week. I feel like I’m coming down with something. And since I’m a hypochondriac who watches too many old movies, I think it might be consumption.

Or a cold. Whichever.

Seriously, sometime I’ll share the story about the nurse I cornered at a writers’ conference when I convinced myself I was having a stroke.

Regardless, I was thinking about how many people ask agents whether or not they write or intend to write. While my answer is usually, “What? Do I look crazy?” I am prepared to make a confession: every once in awhile I read a book and think, “I could have done this.” The reality, of course, is that I probably couldn’t. I lack the creativity and (more importantly) sufficient desire to pound through 5,000 words, let alone 80,000.

So I have to ask: why do you do it? What gets you to sit down and commit to churning out a whole book? I imagine it’s different for everyone, but I’m curious if there’s any sort of consensus. Is it a love of language? Characters that won’t leave you alone until you can get them on the page? Desire for a quick buck? (Ha!) I can think of lots of reasons to give up on writing—it’s stressful, it’s competitive, it’s lonely. And I’m very, very thankful that writers DON’T give up. But tell me: where does the motivation and wherewithal come from?

25 Responses to Why do you write?

  1. Nathan Major says:

    I write because I love it. I can’t think of anything else TO do in my time anymore. I’ve been writing or editing pretty much daily for the past year, and it’s become such a part of my life I seriously feel empty on days I skip my nightly sessions. (heh, nightly sessions, sounds like psychiatrist visits)

    Aside from the unhealthy addiction, I’d say it’s because I love to tell stories. Growing up as the oldest of three boys, I often would sneak into my younger brothers’ room just to concoct odd and bizarre stories to entertain them. That undoubtedly spurned from a previous love of reading, which lead to me thinking of and crafting stories of my own. It was only a matter of time before it burst out into speech, and from there a step further to writing words on the page.

    I love designing new and interesting things for readers to experience, because I get to experience them myself. I only write books I’d want to read, and then there’s the off chance other people enjoy them as well. It’s a blast to brainstorm scenes, and another to watch as my characters take it completely a different direction. While I don’t feel any obligation to the fictional characters, I feel the obligation to myself to bring it all to a sort of satisfying conclusion.

    A bit long winded, but that’s how I’ve always felt since I started writing seriously four years ago. Even if I never get published, I’m still getting enough satisfaction for myself by simply writing. And that’s why I keep going, and why I don’t ever plan on stopping. :)

  2. Josin says:

    Because if I were anything other than a writer, people would think I was crazy when I said I wanted to tell them stories about people who only exist in my head.

    Beyond that, it’s something I’ve always done, even before I could write in the literal. I told stories into a tape recorder as a kid, and made swirl lines on paper to mimic writing as I understood it. The stories refuse to go untold.

  3. Toby Wallis says:

    I want the stuff in my head, out of it.

    While I was working on my first novel(which I am currently in the process of editing)I had had a lot of it in mind for a long time. Seeing it come to life, and seeing the surprising ways in which it changed as I was writing it was some of the best fun I have ever had. Each day I stopped writing looking forward to when I would be able to carry on the next day.

  4. Lisa Marie says:

    Oh no! Navel-gazing? I’m not so good at that. I never thought about it, really. Perhaps it’s because I had great mentors to encourage me, and my experience in the (nonfiction) world of print has been nothing short of wonderful. Writing affords me a comfortable life doing what I love the most. I wake up every day and feel blessed. ☺

  5. Amanda says:

    I writing because I love doing it. I enjoying sitting at the keyboard, letting the story out. Revising and crafting a scene until it’s just right is so satisfying. While I hope to have a novel published (please!) someday, I’d continue to write even if some old fortune teller told me it would take 50 years or more. Think of all that great practice I’d have by then.
    Sure there are times when I feel like giving up, but that would guarantee never being published. I write because I have hope. I have hope because I write.

  6. Lizzie Friend says:

    It’s such a struggle to put into words why writing is so much fun. One way I like to describe it is, reading is amazing. You can transport yourself anywhere, become anyone, do anything, just by picking up the right book and losing yourself in it. For me, writing is just like reading a book, except the characters always do exactly what I hope they will. In other words, writing is reading for control freaks. We get to play god and reinvent the world around us–who could resist?

    As for what keeps me going, sometimes there is a sense of urgency. I’ll get something stuck in my head–a scene, a single line, a tiny wisp of a plot idea–and it won’t go away until it’s out of my mind and onto the paper. It’s like having Peanut Butter Jelly Time playing on repeat in your head for days at a time. You can’t ignore it.

    Other times, it’s as simple as writing being really, really fun. I like words and the infinite ways they fit together. I like the rhythm of writing–composing sentences and paragraphs, then making sure every beat is in the right place. There’s something so pleasing about it, and it’s relaxing in an active, engaged sort of way.

    And finally, as for what actually motivates me to finish an entire book, even after I’m sick of all the characters, the plot is starting to feel trite, and I have three seasons of Dexter just itching to be watched on Netflix: I would really, really love to quit my day job.

  7. Hey Jim. For me, what gets me to write is my children. I am a homeschool mom to two little girls, and for the past four years they have been my total life. I was obsessed with learning how to be the best homeschool parent I could be, and when I wasn’t researching curricula and learning styles, I was stressing on becoming Ms. Suzy Housewife. All my energy was put into them. Then last April I read the Twilight series and just had fun. It wasn’t a huge book on how to homeschool, it was about vampires for goodness sake. And while it felt naughty (ha!), I remembered a part of me that had gotten lost in the shuffle. So I started reading like crazy, reading about 200-250 YA books from April-December, and somewhere around August I decided to take it the next step–try writing myself.

    That opened up a whole new world for me. I am currently on my second YA manuscript (the first was Contemporary and this is a Magical Realism/Historical), and not only have I reconnected with the writer in me (I used to write stories and then articles all the time, before moving into television production in college and then becoming a Mommy), but I have actually become a better mom. My kids see someone who is passionate about reading and writing, two major subjects in our homeschool, and the quest for publication gives us lots to discuss. My six year old is writing poetry and wanting to be published, and we daily have discussions on character arcs, vivid vocabulary, description and story structure! And they see that a strong woman can be a good mom and still have her own passions and interests.

    So what started me writing is wanting to do something just for me, something just a little selfish for a bit. What keeps me writing is the example it is setting for my children. Oh, and I also love creating worlds and making new imaginary friends, too. :-)

  8. Teri Carter says:

    Because once I get even one character and one possible story line going through my head, it’s fun to follow the thread — which turns into many threads — and see where it goes. I’m constantly thinking about opening lines for chapters, titles, hooks, dialogue, etc… so whether I’m walking my dogs, playing tennis, or trying to nod off late at night, my story-pistons are firing.

  9. Suzi McGowen says:

    As others have said, I love stories. I come from a story telling tradition, and it’s a big part of me. (Whether or not story telling is the same as writing is a whole other subject.)

    I’ve also found that the act of creation (stories, drawing, whatever) is the single strongest weapon I have against depression. An act of creation a day keeps depression away :)

  10. Silver James says:

    I write because I have to. I have far too many words and characters, too many places and actions all swirling in my imagination. They have to come out or they keep me awake at night. As much as a Harry Potter fan I’m not (I know–sacrilege! I like the books, just not a huge fan), I would like to have the Pensive. How delightful to hold a wand to my head, pull all the thoughts churning around my brain, and sling them onto the monitor so the story appears whole cloth.

    Writers write. It’s what we do, even when the sun shines and we’d rather be outside playing with all the other kids.

  11. EEV says:

    That’s a very interesting question, Jim. I write because I read.
    When I learned to read I had no TV at home; Dad used to say TV makes you dumb. So, I read. All kinds of books, even the racy ones (in secret, of course).
    It was natural to follow this path. I’ve searched other ways, like painting and playing the guitar and writing lyrics, and I like to create, but writing seems to be the one which I can channel better.

  12. Darcy Burke says:

    I write mostly because I have ideas, and I just like to tell stories. I also really love the idea of creating something that exists in perpetuity. Characters who never die. I can reread favorite stories over and over, and while I get to The End, they’re always there for me when I want to go back.

    I’ll add that finishing a manuscript is a very heady experience, and once accomplished, you can’t wait to do it again. At least that’s how it is for me. :)

  13. Coelho das Saudades says:

    This is a real life story. I’m sorry for not sharing my real name, but I indeed to start sending queries to agents in a short time and I think this must information would make them very awkward. I’m sharing this life memories to everyone that has pass through the same, or similar, understand that there is a way to overcome borderline.

    I’m a very, very, very strange person. My writing is weird, to say the least. Is not bad, not either confusing. But, nobody would ever associate me to my writing.

    I had strange problems in the past, when I was young I had a special difficulty to disassociate the reality from fantasy, normally, I would just blend them. I had a secret, a confusing secret. My minds create stories, like, automatically. I don’t have to think a lot, I just have to be left alone. When I was young, this stories were my comfort when I sleep, but when I achieve puberty, things really got out of hand. The dreams became nightmares, every story I had created in my mind begun to transform in some distorted, dark ones.

    I tried to sleep with pills, I tried alcohol, even lighter drugs. Nothing work. I got insane. I was a sports guy, always in some game, always training. I had my life completely organize. So I can say that I could have pass more than 4 months without sleeping a little bit. I felt my forces being suck away from me, the stories became depressing, and I, became depressing.

    I started to questing everything. Every single thing that would not present me a good logic for their existence. Until I look myself in the mirror and said that it was to much. I search for a fatal combination of drugs, I joint them, and took them. And when I was passing away, I didn’t feel any regret or sorry, not either relief or peace. I didn’t feel a thing.

    My parents got to my before I died and call an ambulance. I would live, just to be humiliated from everybody I knew.

    The stories didn’t stop in my mind. I kept revising them in my sleep, and they slowly became haunting my in my real life. My psychiatrist paint me has a schizophrenic, what made my parents start to watch me has I was an alien. Until one psychologist explain me what I could have. He told me I was borderline. I didn’t believe him, of course. After multiple others had tell me multiple different diseases, I couldn’t risk it to believe in someone other than me.

    Years past. The stories continue haunting my dreams and reality. I started to planned a new suicide. But, them I met I wife to be. She was different, strange, like me. She already tried to kill herself before too. Nobody knew, but she tried, she had the “marks”. And she has haunted my stories in her sleep too.

    I know it looks like a fairytale, but this is a true story.

    One day she was very sick, mellow and sad. And she asked me:

    “Could you tell me a bedtime story, like the ones that you are going to tell our babies?” (we were already married for almost a year at that time.)

    I searched my mind for classics stories, but she didn’t want to hear any of that. So I started: “The wind whispered from north…”

    I told her one of my stories. She already has writing one of her own. And she asked me: “Could you write this story? Just for me?”
    I answered: “Yes. Why not?”

    And them, the magic happened. I’m writing that story right know. And as most I write, less I dream about that story. It is like I’m simple relocating my thoughts in “paper”(.doc). It is strange, but I sleep better in the days that I write. I’m not haunted with dark depressing stories that nights. It is, in a word, “Fantastic”!

    This is MY LIFE, MY REAL LIFE. I’m a real person, and this is how I overthrown my “necessity” of killing myself before the great question: “Why do we exist?”

    I’m sorry for the long text. I had a great day today, and I hope I could let some others “borderlines” know that there is always a way to justify the means, and others means to justify the end.

    Coelho das Saudades (Bunny of Regards [in a real bad translation])

  14. Beth Cossey says:

    I fought it…I did, but the characters would not stop harrassing me! I tried a restraining order. Police couldn’t serve it. Characters wouldn’t have paid any attention anyway. So I did the only thing I could do. I gave them their story. And they gave me the courage to take that leap of faith. In truth, writing is something I love. What more can you ask in life?

  15. Tracy Jorgensen says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that all my thoughts are in story format. So much so, that I live my life through stories. If some woman criticizes my parenting while I’m at the store then I’ll work out a story in my head where I get to confront her and resolve the issue. I may wander towards vengeful at points, but that is why it is so useful to keep the story in my head. I relive my memories and work out my emotions through stories. If I’m ever bored, I tell myself a story. When I read or watch a movie, even if its horrid, I can focus on the story and what makes it work and how I would have written it (for better or worse). So basically, my life is a work of fiction.

    The only natural conclusion, then, is that I write some of these stories down. Some work out better than others of course, but that desire to share that part of who I am is what drives me to my chair. That being said, I don’t always find my drive cohabiting peacefully with my creativity. One of my secrets to keep myself in the chair is a bag of mini Twix. Every 500-1000 words (depending on my generosity level), I get to eat a mini Twix bar. There have been some days when I wrote just for the chocolate, but it works for me.

    Now that I’ve completed the first draft of my novel, I wonder about this motivation though. It only works because I have the drive to finish what I started and the integrity to stick to the rules I’ve set for myself (which I don’t do perfectly). Overall though, the desire to create is just human nature.  For whatever reason–a desire to leave a part of ourselves behind or to share more about ourselves with the world–people have an urge to make more of themselves and their talents. That’s why some people have children (it’s called procreation for a reason), and it’s why I write. I have that urge to create and to share the stories I concoct.

    This has all gotten a bit longer than I anticipated. Thanks for reading my long-winded comments, and thanks to everyone else who shared a piece of themselves by commenting.

  16. Simple. It exorcised the demons from my head. I haven’t had “that” nightmare (more like a memory) in over a year now. That’s probably why I cannot stop revising it either. If I do, will they return?

    Fiction? Ha!

  17. The ideas come and will not be denied. The characters live and want their stories to be told. They go on without me, leaving me to play catch-up if I’ve neglected them too long. I write because I have to and because I love what words do to me — and what I hope they will do to others.

  18. Money. I’m not interested in anything except the paycheck.

    The fact that I have a skill many people don’t have — that whole putting words on paper thing — hasn’t escaped me. My primary motivation has always been money. I’m not interested in fame (at all… the less people who know who I am the better) and while I don’t deny that I “have all these stories inside me” I would be content to let them stay inside me if I didn’t think I could sell them to someone else.

    I do love books and characters and the entire world that lives inside of a novel, but if someone wasn’t there to sign the bottom of a Paycheck I wouldn’t involve myself in the creating aspect of books at all.

  19. Beth Dunn says:

    I was bothered by this question myself back in January, and wrote up my conclusions here:


    To summarize:

    Because it is magic,


    Because I want to make other people feel the way my favorite books have made me feel.

  20. Michael G-G says:

    Because I like talking (and listening) to myself.

    And I get to spend my day with ghosts, both the living and the dead.

    And (rule of three) it feels good playing God.

  21. As a psychologist, it’s fairly easy for me to put myself in other people’s shoes. I hear the craziest stories and while I’m listening, I think things like ‘What if they’re not crazy? What if they were actually abducted by a UFO and have a brain implant,’ and I go from there. Also, I’m a vivid dreamer, and dreamed the entire plot of my new ms, which made it impossible NOT to write. My challenge has been learning the craft, but I won’t stop until I get it right.

  22. I’m back. I must say, this post stuck with me all day. So much so that I just had to blog about myself and I made some profound discoveries. So thanks, Jim! And now I can move on from your rejection!

  23. PJ says:

    I could tell you that it’s the characters: they won’t let me be until I write a story about them. Or that it’s a shiny idea that similarly obsesses me. Or a title or turn of phrase that begs to have a story attached. All those would be true, but they aren’t the whole story. In fact, those things are only symptoms. The truth is that there is a Big Something at the core of me that needs that sense of flow, of being in the moment and creating. Only writing does that for me, and has ever since I was a little kid and first discovered it. I’m addicted to the flow of creativity. There are worse things to be addicted to, but there are times when I wish I wasn’t. If I go dry for any length of time, I get all fidgety for my fix, and I’m never really satisfied until I can get back to the flow.

  24. It doesn’t matter what I write, it always comes down to getting words out that are rattling around in my head. Phrases repeat themselves in my dreams. I visualize characters doing something and I’m driven to discover what it is. It’s a little like playing with a Rubik’s Cube. You know there’s a coherent whole but until you work it all out, it’s just random pieces coloured with potential. (I love fitting story segments together, but I have no patience at all for Rubik’s Cube! LOL!)

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