The why of writing matters. Modern culture may have lost several good things from the past, but it has gained the luxury of untold options for many who live in developed countries. We can choose from multiple activities for filling our time and our bank accounts. Among those choices, writing well requires commitment.
Eventually, then, all who write must examine their motivations.
Writing into Why
Some seem to instinctively know what drives them to write, engaging their craft with little angst.
Others believe they want to write but aren’t sure why, bravely forging ahead while waiting for the effort to make sense. And many more writers think they know the reason—until slamming against writing or publishing challenges and suddenly recognizing an inadequate why. Sometimes quickly, sometimes years later, sometimes never, they find a new reason and start again.
For a long time, I vacillated in that latter category. I repeatedly revised my whys, with writing gaps between reasons. Yet I always had a small spark that never completely fizzled and periodically flashed into yet another pursuit of that aha moment of no-matter-what motivation.
As a longtime student of the why, I’ve collected multiple writing muses:
I’m sure there are whys I’ve missed, but this lengthy and occasionally overlapping list seems representative. In our language-based culture, we expect much from the act of writing, and the process frequently delivers. It’s no wonder that many of us labor to be writers.
Fortunately, there is no saturation point. We’re all shaped by words in every aspect of life, from birth till death, which opens space for an unlimited number of wordsmiths to work with a medium both pervasive and powerful—for writer and reader alike.
Why I Write
During the decades I’ve been writing, I’ve cycled through several of the listed reasons. But my motivations didn’t last, either because they were situational—often tied to reaching a specific goal—or because I examined the whys behind my whys and felt shame.
With age I’ve grown ever aware of ego as the basis for much of what I’ve done in my life—and I’ve finally understood how well writing has long fed that hungry ego. Even when no one reads my words, simply declaring myself a writer adds cachet to my self-identity and public image.
Better yet, if I do share my writing, then occasionally I also receive the ego satisfaction of manipulating readers’ thoughts and feelings by making them happy, making them laugh, making them learn, making them sad, making them think, making them feel good about themselves, and making them change to feel better. What power!
But I’ve also realized that if desire for approval and control alone has fueled my words, then my writing motivation has rested exclusively on the mercy of external reaction. And that doesn’t explain my many secretive returns to the page after periods of inner scrutiny and writing asceticism.
I now grasp my very deepest why behind the why. After a time, I hunger for writing as if for food. I choose different foods at different times in varying amounts for a variety of reasons, but I can’t fast for long. Similarly, I can’t not write for long—regardless whether I call myself a writer or share my words.
The truth of my no-matter-what motivation is this: I write out of an inner compulsion that is as much a part of me as the need for physical nourishment. Writing is life.
Regrettably, though, my ultimate reason for writing still comes down to me. I’m determined to eventually recognize a cause so meaningful that my writing permanently turns toward a purpose which transcends my self-centered needs.
Meanwhile, I accept that writing for survival is the bridge that will eventually take me to a reason beyond self.
What is the truth of your deepest why for writing? Please share your answer by clicking the gray “Comments” button below.
I planted this yellow rose from Texas a few weeks before my mother—born and raised in Texas—died. It bloomed the day after her death. I named the rose Nell, after my mom.
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