Why do you write?
Wait, don’t answer that. Not yet. Let me play psychic. (Don’t try this at home. At least not with the aid of an Ouija board. You might get sucked into the underworld – and I don’t mean the good one where Kate Beckinsale wears leather. Or you could become possessed by demons. Or – yikes – you might be inspired to make a low-budget paranormal horror film that will turn you into a millionaire!)
First, I will place a few of your worst possible answers on the table so I can sweep them into the trash bin.
Because I want to be rich.
Because I want to be famous.
Because I’m a brilliant writer and apparently it’s up to me to stem the tide of crappy novels.
Because everyone else is doing it.
If you’re in this to become rich and famous, um, really? I mean, if that happens because of your writing, terrific. Wear sunglasses at night and snort Beluga caviar for breakfast. But if this is the reason you write ? Um…really?
Are you a brilliant writer? Says who? Okay, let’s assume you are brilliant. If your goal is to make people forget about crappy books, you’ve already failed. There will always be people who love what you refer to as crappy books. And – get this – there will always be people who think your books are crappy.
If you’re writing because everyone else is doing it, may I introduce you to this herd of lemmings and that cliff?
Sweep. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Okay. Now, let’s look at another possible answer.
Because it’s fun. I like writing. It makes me feel good. And it keeps me off the streets. It was either this or a drug habit. You don’t want me doing drugs, do you? DO YOU?
No, of course we don’t want you doing drugs. If writing’s fun for you and that’s all you want out of it, then party with your participles until you’re [adjective] in the [noun] and you can’t [verb] anymore. But if you’re hoping to be published someday, you can’t use this as your primary answer. Sorry. It just won’t do.
I know what you’re thinking so I’ll just go ahead and write the words here:
Because I can’t not write.
[And the crowd goes wild! Except the crowd is wrong.] That’s not an answer. Not a satisfying one, anyway. I know where you’re going with it. You’re comparing writing to breathing. Or a beating heart. Or choosing the slowest possible line in the grocery store. Every. Single. Time.
Writing’s not an autonomic function. It’s not something you can’t not do. It’s a choice.
“Hold on there buddy, boy,” you say. “I don’t agree. I really can’t help myself. I have to write. Something compels me to…”
Ah, stop right there. You said “something compels me.”
So dig a little deeper. What is this “something” that compels you? What could possibly be so compelling that you would be willing to give up precious sleep (among other precious things like children and spouses and the latest episode of “Modern Family”) in its pursuit? Want the answer now? Okay. Here:
You want to matter.
You might also know this by other names, such as:
You want to be remembered.
You want to make a difference.
You want to be seen as beautiful. Or worthy. Or smart. Or clever. Or funny.
Is it any wonder why rejection stings so much? Oh, sure, we all buck up and say “I’m okay with rejection because I learn from it.” Yeah. But first it hurts. That’s what makes the learning stick.
So what difference does this make? Who cares why we write? I do. And so should you. Because if you recognize that your writing is more about you than the words on the page, you’ll take it seriously. You’ll give writing the respect it deserves. And you’ll get better at it.
Stephen King wrote, “you must not come lightly to the blank page.”
He’s absolutely right. But not just because words matter.
Because you do, too.