Why do writers write? Why do you write? Is it for fame or fortune or do you write for another reason?
There are a number of common motivations for writing. A writer’s motivations are closely linked with their ‘author purpose’ such as writing to inform or writing to entertain. If you understand your author purpose and key motivations then you will be able to focus more on whatever it is that you are trying to achieve. If you don’t understand your motivations and reasons for writing then how on earth will you define your success?
Let’s look at some of the compelling reasons to be a writer. While many of these motivations are about what you want to get out of your writing, some of them are also associated with what your readers get out of it.
Writing for Money
Most of us have bills to pay every month. That’s a strong motivator for many of us… the desire to earn enough from our writing so that we can live comfortably. How much you are able to earn as an author will depend upon many factors – the type of writing (fiction, ghostwriting, copy writing, etc.), your expertise and even your location (although this is less important for some types of writing than it was ten years ago). According to Payscale, the median writer/author salary in the United States is currently around $49,773 and the average rate for freelancers is $25.86 per hour.
Writing for the Flexible Lifestyle
Another closely related motivation is the goal of quitting our day-time job and working full-time as a writer. Many of us are drawn to a writing career because we want a flexible lifestyle where we take control of our working hours and place of work.
Writing to Inform the Public
For some writers, especially news reporters and journalists, their motivation for writing is to inform people and get the real story out to their readers. Sometimes this comes hand-in-hand with a motivation to hold accountable those people in positions of power.
As I was writing this, I was also struck with the fact that writing to inform does not always involve revealing the truth. If you work in information warfare department of the security services then your motivation for writing may be to “misinform” for strategic military purposes.
Writing to Get the Scoop
One of the main drives among reporters is to be first with a “scoop” of a major breaking story. Scoops are not always about breaking news. Sometimes writers are motivated to write an “intellectual scoop”. During a stint at The New York Times as Public Editor, Byron Calame looked into the motivations of their reporters. With regards to intellectual scoops he wrote, “When you can look at all the dots everyone can look at, and be the first to connect them in a meaningful and convincing way, that’s something.”
Writing to Instruct
Another reason to write is to educate or teach our readers how to do something. I wrote a book on how to publish ebooks because I wanted to help my readers to be able to do it themselves and save hundreds of dollars. Another example is a professor who writes a new science textbook. Teaching and helping others is sometimes a strong motivation.
Writing to Leave a Legacy
What contribution will you make, and leave for the generations that follow you? Through your writing, you have an opportunity to leave a legacy that will outlast you. People may be reading your work for hundreds of years to come. Your great-grandchildren may receive an income from the books you are writing today. What an incredible opportunity to provide some financial security for your heirs or to leave your mark on the world through your manuscripts.
Writing for a Sense of Accomplishment
For some writers, their motivation is to gain the sense of accomplishment that comes from having a book published… or even from finishing a book. I can still remember how good it felt to finish my first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. I usually write non-fiction, but I loved the challenge of writing a novel and finishing that first draft.
Writing to Win
Some writers are driven by a love of winning. They want to receive first place in a writing contest or be honored with a Pulitzer prize. They want their book to reach No.1 on their favorite bestseller list.
Writing to Make a Difference
Some people choose to write because they want to “make a difference” and have an influence on the world around them. As Tom Stoppard said “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”
Spanish essayist and professor Miguel de Unamuno explained his motivation, “My aim is to agitate and disturb people. I’m not selling bread, I’m selling yeast.”
As writers, we have the opportunity to influence the way that people see and view the world. Is this one of your motivations?
Writing to Persuade People
Another reason for writing is to persuade our readers to take a particular action. If we are writing marketing copy then this will probably be one of our main motivations. Our goal in writing may be to convince our readers of the value in obtaining and using a particular product or service
Writing to Entertain People
Writing to entertain is a common author purpose. Many of us seek to entertain our readers through our novels. Some writers entertain by writing scripts for plays, sitcoms, and television shows. Some write poetry and the lyrics for the songs we hear on the latest billboard charts. Is one of your compelling motivations to entertain people?
Writing Because Your Job Requires It
I realize that people write for all kinds of reasons and sometimes it is not so much by choice as it is out of necessity… especially if writing is a core requirement of your job. The reality is that a lot of people write for this reason.
Writing for Academic Studies
We all went to school… most of us, at least. Another reason that people write out of necessity is when they are studying at an educational institute. The act of writing material down is known to help in the process of learning a new topic. Also, our knowledge of a given subject is typically tested through what we can write on the topic during an examination.
Writing for the Love of It
One of the best motivations to write is simply because you love writing. Here are some quotations from well-known authors on this:
“I believe that you either love the work or the rewards. Life is a lot easier if you love the work.” ~ Jane Smiley
“The only thing more tormenting than writing is not writing.” ~ Cynthia Ozick
“When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.” ~ Erica Jong
“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising… and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.” ~ Neil Gaiman
Writing to be More Alive
Have you ever considered that writing helps us to be more alive? Writing helps us to appreciate the little details that many people miss around them… we see the tiny leaves on a plant, we hear the gentle whisper of the breeze, we notice the aroma of cooking coming from the food cart on the street. In order to describe these experiences and to recreate the locations and atmospheres in our books we first have to notice then and pay close attention.
Now if that doesn’t beat being stuck in the same corporate cubicle every day, I don’t know what does!
Some of you may be familiar with Stephen King’s book on our craft On Writing. If you haven’t read it, you should. In a postscript called ‘On Living’ Stephen King writes, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
So, there are many reasons for writing. There are no right and wrong motivations, but it is important to understand and appreciate what are your main reasons for writing.
If you know your reasons then you can set some realistic targets. For example:
- to finish my novel by next February.
- to self-publish 3 books this year.
- to expose the illegal logging industry.
- to earn $60,000 from my writing over the next 12 months.
- to move 5,000 copies of my books through Amazon’s Kindle store.
- to build my social media following to 50,000 followers, fans and email subscribers.
Whatever your own reasons for writing, always write the very best you can. Write something that’s going to be remembered. Write something that’s going to outlast you. Also, as Arthur Miller cautioned, “Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.”
What are your motivational drives? What gives you the most satisfaction as a writer? I welcome your comments below.
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