WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
As writers, we’re asked many questions. Some from and of ourselves, many more from others. One question seems perpetual for the frequency with which it’s asked: “In light of how hard it is to get or stay published, why do writers write?”
While I can’t answer for everyone, I can share my own thoughts and what I’ve observed from a large pool of writers over a long period of time.
Some speculate that it’s the freedom writing affords. You set your own schedule, work when and as you please, and answer only to yourself.
Well, bluntly put and in practical terms, all that’s a myth. Before writing full-time I was a director of operations for a corporate chain and I had three kids at home (participating in all the typical sports and other activities). Back then I had at least double the free time that I do now.
Yes, writers set their own schedules. But those schedules include many activities that are writing related but not actually writing, and they all must be done, too, which knocks out working when and as you please. Sure, you can choose to write in the mornings and do ancillary related jobs in the afternoon, but typically you end up working most if not all your waking hours less and except those you insist on just taking off to do other things. When you do that, you do it knowing you’re leaving work undone.
As for answering to no one but yourself, well, that’s pretty much a myth, too, though you do ultimately choose how to spend your day. But you answer to your responsibilities and obligations like most other people in their chosen careers, and you’re not an island. You work with an editor (or several editors), an agent (or several agents), with marketing and sales and publicity, booksellers, other writers, organizations . . . well, you get the point. Others are definitely involved, and if you fail to perform, you’ve messed up for yourself and for them. So it’s not as simple as answering to no one other than yourself. Ultimately, you answer to your readers. This is typically a pleasant perk, but pleasant perks too require time and commitment.
So I can’t say I know any writers who write for freedom it affords them. Far more often writers are reduced to sandwiching in time to actually write.
Some speculate that an inborn talent drives the writer to continue writing when not writing would be easier.
I respectfully disagree. I know many talented writers who never wrote to sell a book, have never submitted a book to a publisher, or who have stopped writing because selling books for a living was too difficult or unstable and/or problematic.
And let’s be frank. Writing is never and will never be easy. It’s only through a writer’s effort (some say blood and sweat) that it appears easy.
But talent is only one of many criteria when it comes to selling what you write. It’s nothing to sneeze at, so don’t get me wrong, but talent alone will not give the writer the discipline or ability to write a book or the fortitude to sell one, much less to write and sell the body of work one produces over the span of a career as a writer.
True, one can learn almost everything to do with writing as a career. One can learn craft, how the industry works. One can learn to network and market, to integrate into the business. One can learn everything except one thing: storytelling. That is a gift–a talent–one has or one does not. Yet merely having the talent doesn’t ensure one’s ability to use it to successfully parlay it into a writing career. So talent doesn’t keep a writer writing…
Some speculate that perseverance keeps a writer writing.
Not exactly. Persistence and perseverance keeps a writer who wants to write writing in the face of rejections and other challenges encouraging the writer to stop writing, but perseverance alone isn’t enough to get a writer to write when that writer isn’t already determined to do so.
It’s like with thirst. If you’re thirsty you drink. If you’re really thirsty, you’ll crawl across a desert looking for that oasis and you’ll keep crawling until you find water because you’re thirsty. You’ll persevere. But perseverance didn’t create the thirst. It’s a reaction to the struggle to find water.
For the writer who struggles to get the writing published, perseverance is a tool that aids in the struggle-phase, but it comes after the writing. Now for the writer who elects to write but finds enthusiasm waning to stick with the writing until the work is done . . . perseverance definitely comes into play, as does discipline. But either alone or combined, they are not the catalysts for writing. They’re the reaction to the catalyst–like with thirst. So, no, perseverance can’t make a writer write.
Some speculate education keeps a writer writing.
While I’m a huge proponent of education and see benefits in it in all we do or attempt to do, education alone doesn’t make a writer write. It can deepen the creative well from which a writer can draw. It can enable a writer to convey a story clearly, efficiently. It can help stage an environment wherein a writer can emote, tell a story in a way that makes it appeal to readers (the first of whom are an agent or an editor) but education alone isn’t going to put or keep a writer’s backside in a chair and keep it there through the creative process of creating a book.
Some speculate it’s the relationships a writer forms with other writers, agents and/or editors, bonds with readers that makes a writer keep writing.
Those relationships are important. Critical–to the writer and his/her family, who are spared writing talk only because those other relationships exist. No one “gets” writers like other writers. No one understands the nuances of the process like those in the business. And no one understands the elations and the challenges inbred like those in it. But those are perks that could be applied to any career-field. Scientists about science. CPAs about numbers and tax law. Mechanics about auto repairs. Definitely desirable, definitely beneficial, but relationships do not create and maintain the desire to write. They may support it after it already exists, but these things do not forge the desire.
Some speculate the story itself keeps the discouraged, despairing writer writing.
This is closer to the truth, but not all of it. Enthusiasm for a story, excitement about it, runs in phases. The initial burst of enthusiasm. The wall where enthusiasm fizzles and writing turns to work. The temptation to cease and desist wars with the determination to finish.
There could be, and typically are, other phases, too. The really good ones run their course in about the first three chapters of the book. Then the good stuff goes dormant until the writer is almost at the end. This is why you read so much on sagging middles. And why middles are predisposed to sagging. The enthusiasm isn’t as strong to shore them up. That means more work for the writer, trying to fire it up to shore up the middle.
If the writer isn’t wholly engaged with the story, you can see how much more difficult the process would be. It’s plenty difficult when wholly engaged. It’s under those circumstances that burst of excitement fires and sustains you for those three chapters. After that, you’ve got to create and generate excitement. Find something in the work that fires you up to keep going.
So, no, the story alone isn’t enough to keep the writer writing. It’s significant and its impact is undeniably a factor, but story alone won’t keep a writer writing–not for a book, not for the span of a career.
Some speculate that the writer feels “too invested” in writing to start over doing something else and that’s why s/he sticks with it.
With changing markets, I expect many writers go through periods of time feeling this way, but I can’t say I know any who have elected to write or to continue to write because they felt they had too much invested to do anything else.
By nature, writers are interested in many things. Diversity is one of their assets, and that makes them marketable in the work force. Rather than too invested invested to do anything else, I’d say they’re innately capable of doing many other things–many of which make earning a living far easier in other positions than in that of a career writer.
Starting over might not be fun or an appealing thing, but considering most writers reinvent themselves an average of three times in their writing career, I’d say that makes this speculation a myth, too. The average writer already starts anew–some far more than three times–so I don’t see how this could keep a writer writing.
Some speculate it’s the money, fame and prestige that keeps a writer writing.
Sorry, but this doesn’t begin to wash. Most writers don’t make a decent living much less a fortune. Many go their entire careers writing consistently but are never recognized for it. That pretty well does away with delusions of grandeur on the fame and prestige fronts.
So why then do writers do what they do? Even when they’re hearing no far more often than yes, why do they keep writing?
Here’s where we’re back from observation to what I know from personal experience.
I know writers write because they have something to say that they want others to hear.
I know writers write because they have a reason to write–they feel a strong purpose to their work. That purpose, whatever it might be, ignites the desire to write in them and fans the flame so that it burns consistently and without fail.
I know writers write because the idea of not writing is more than they can bear. A life without writing to convey the stories in their heads is the shell of a life but not one fully lived. Not for a writer.
Purpose ignites and fires the desire. Desire fuels all the rest. Sustains the writer, infuses the writer with the will and discipline and perseverance and determination to do and learn all that’s required. Purpose and that infused need to relate keeps the writer writing. Even when it’s tough to sell. Even when it’s tough to keep backside to chair day in and out, month after month, year after year.
A writer is inspired. Alone that can’t get or keep a writer writing. But infuse that inspiration with purpose, and that will start a chain reaction in the writer.
Inspiration. Infused with purpose. Sparks desire. A need to relate.
But wait. Not just anything inspires a writer and motivates him/her to actually write. Different things impact people differently, right? So what differentiates the writing kind of inspiration from your average run-of-the-mill inspiration? What in inspiration gets a writer writing or keeps one writing?
Purpose. It defines what sparks our specific imagination. Purpose infuses imagination and defines something as the type of inspiration that makes a writer write. Purpose infused imagination sparks desire, that need to relate, and fans its flames, and keeps the writer writing well beyond the time when logic and reason and sense say to quit. Even when everything says stop now… one thing strongly disagrees and it then keeps writers writing. The heart.
The heart pays more attention to purpose than does the mind, reason or logic. The heart is attuned to the desires in it. It’s the well from which purpose-driven imagination springs. And it refuses to be silenced. To have inner peace with him/herself, the writer keeps writing.
And there’s my version of the straight skinny on this matter.
So the next time someone asks what keeps a writer writing when everything–and often, everyone–says stop, you might respond with the short version:
It really is just that simple–and complex.