Someone asked me this question recently and I had no ready answer. I think of reasons why people do things (at least here in the United States) and they basically come down to:
- Make money
- Lose weight/look better
- Impress other people
At least, that’s what I can tell from my Facebook feed. I can pretty much guarantee you that #2 is not a Reason to Write. As to #1 and #3, here are some reasons to write:
- become a best-selling author just like J.K. Rowling and buy your own castle (a tiny number people will achieve this)*; or
- become a best-selling author not like J.K. Rowling but more like Jenny Lawson and you will not be able to buy your own castle but you will have some fun and maybe buy yourself a 5-foot chicken (more people will achieve this but not that many, all told).
And yet it is more likely that:
- you will not become a best-selling author and you may not get published at all or make more than $1000 a year from your writing; or
- you will make no money at all ever and have to live in a van down by the river.
Well, you probably won’t have to deal with the second option. But, as far as getting rich and winning the adulation of strangers, most of us are not.
When I was a child, I dreamed of writing a best-selling book and hanging out in my writerly office full of books and plants and cats and a spiffy IBM Selectric (yeah, it was a while ago) and basically making a living from my imagination, which seemed like the coolest thing ever. Well, besides being an astronaut, which is cooler but requires a working knowledge of higher-level mathematics and physics.
But I’m not a child anymore and I have my own adult set of Reasons to Write, some of which I will admit to below. Here’s why I write:
- Because I like it
- Because it’s fun
- Because even when it’s not fun, it is still (weirdly) enjoyable
- Because I get to discover amazing things about the world or myself or the universe
- Because, as long as I can remember, a good day is one in which I can say that I sat down and wrote.
I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.
Why should they do it? She says:
My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.
But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. [emphasis added]
[Note: Both Anne Lamott quotations from “Bird By Bird” were cribbed from brainpickings.org which is a great place for finding ideas, quotations, art, etc., that Maria Popova has gleaned and assembled from all over literature and the world.]
So— would you like to feel better and more alive? For me, that pretty much crushes make money, lose weight, and impress people. And that’s why I keep going, even here at the end of National Novel Writing Month when I have only 10,000 words, instead of the 50,000 I need to win. Also, I need to find out what happens next to all those characters. If you see them wandering around, give them a sandwich and some water and send them back my way.