Why Do You Write?

Are you struggling to finish the project that just won’t end? Did you receive a rejection letter recently? Feel like you’re beating your head against a wall or stretched too thin? Us too. Time to re-evaluate and ask why do I write?

Lisa: Here’s the thing–I would write even if no one ever paid me for it (though I’m hoping none of my clients read this). I write because I can’t not write. I dream in stories. I create stories while standing in lines. I write to help others. My first response to a humanitarian disaster or social injustice is to query a magazine editor because everyone needs to know about this and DO something to help.

For me, writing is not an occupation, it’s a vocation.

Let me tell you – the writing you do because you want to is way more fun than the writing you have to do. Weird irony there. I got pretty good at the kind of writing I don’t really want to do, but is helping to pay the bills and hopefully build credibility. Usually I work for less than market value because ‘it’s for a good cause.’ And I don’t mind, because I’m writing. But someday, all this hard work and sacrifice will hopefully see me pay a few bills with my fiction. Someday.

My house is in complete disarray. I do enough cleaning to keep the health department away. There is a toy horse, Mario and Luigi, and a tiny Imperial Starship that aren’t mine on my desk (the Lara Croft poseable figure with guns aimed at my head – she’s mine). We measure laundry in piles, and I can’t remember the last time I vacuumed. I take my laptop to cheerleading practice and swim lessons, edit my novel while I cook supper, and routinely stay up until 1 or 2am  in the summer to meet deadlines because I have 3 kids at home all day. And I’m tired.

Marcy: On the bad days, I’d tell you I write because I’m a glutton for punishment. On the good days, I’d make a joke about being able to work in my shlumpy clothes and set my own hours. Most days, I’d tell you I write because my husband and I are living on my income while waiting for his immigration to Canada to be approved, and I’m completely unqualified for any job that wouldn’t make me start daydreaming about being kidnapped by aliens 10 minutes in.

And there are elements of truth in all those answers, but the whole truth is I write because I don’t know how not to. I’m always asking “what if” and trying to write something worthwhile. I wake up in the middle of the night with story ideas I have to write down.

Part of the writing I do is work. The “day job” writing isn’t fun. (I know, I know. “You’re complaining about being able to write all day?!”) One day I hope to be able to leave it behind to write novels full-time. I believe in the power of fiction to change lives.

Yet even though the day job writing is supposed to be a means to an end, if it was all I could have, I’d write anyway.

I feel most like myself when I’m writing. I feel like the words I write can help someone, can make a difference. And that makes it all worth it.

If you visit my house, you’re likely to trip over the cats’ ping pong balls and the Great Dane puppy’s slobbery purple hippopotamus because I’d rather sneak in a few more minutes of writing or editing than clean up toys they’ll pull out again as soon as I turn my back. My husband knows the look that means we’re eating Subway for supper again because I’m on deadline. At night, I fall asleep with my laptop on my lap, my chin on my chest, and a cat draped across my legs. I haven’t had a day off since 2010.

Have you sorted out the priorities in your life whether you have kids at home or work at a day job? Why do you write? What sacrifices do you make? Would you ever give it up?

Marcy & Lisa

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25 comments on “Why Do You Write?

  1. I’m so glad I didn’t simply add this to the list of GWP posts I have to catch up on.

    Lisa, I love the Lara Croft comment. And, Marcy, we all have “the look” but we may use it for different reasons (grin).

    I admire both of you when you say you just can’t not write. I’ve often wondered if that’s the case with me. But then I get to thinking…

    When what I write encourages another, brings a smile to their face, or let’s them know they have value, you can’t tie me down.

    Two of the manuscripts I’m working on for others are about very serious issues but are written from a very personal viewpoint. The more I get into these projects, the more I realize I’m part of something important.

    So, why do I write (and edit)? If what I put out there makes the world a better place – if even in a small way for a very few people – I will keep at it.

  2. Writing is in my blood. My parents were singers, storytellers, speech writers; they could make up poems on the spur of the moment that some of their seven children still quote today. My admiration for the written word began with listening. Though I was too small to comprehend what letters were, I scribbled page after page of stories and would hand them to my mother expecting her to be able to read them. I knew what they were about!

    Like the two of you, I would not know how to stop myself from writing. I have learned, I think, to stop myself from writing that which is not beneficial. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—(Phil. 4:8!) these are the things I want to write about, to think about. It can be complicated to do that right. Still, I believe it is worth it to explore all subjects with an eye toward those things.

    Your facebook status also asked if there was anything I would give up writing for. I can’t imagine my writing putting anyone’s life in danger, but if it did, that would be it. The right to pursue life, liberty and happiness should never be starved but only ever fed by the written word.

    Thank you for the excellent article, for making me think and re-think yet again why I write.

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Writers write because they HAVE to. They don’t have a choice in the matter. The drive, the passion, is too great. I’ve written about this myself. It has nothing to do with getting paid (although that is nice when it happens), or being recognized (ditto the last comment). It is simply who you are.

  4. Elizabeth – yes! Spot on. That’s exactly it. Kristie, what a blessing to come from a creative family. Thanks so much for joining us on Facebook!
    Steph – as always, your support is invaluable. You’re the first to comment on every post nearly – thanks so much.

  5. Good lawd this was a great post. Lisa and Marcy, I applaud your devotion. It’s true, writing isn’t something you decide to do one day because you’re bored. It’s a compulsion. It’s an uncontrollable urge to create entire UNIVERSES and simply watch what happens when events unfold. There is no feeling quite like the satisfaction that comes from staring at something YOU have created…and you think it’s damn good.

    I have a messy home. I live with my wife. We have two cats. Sometimes the catbox doesn’t get cleaned as regularly as it should. We have stacks and stacks of laundry. Dishes pile up sometimes. Things, papers, cups…all lie about the place. Couches covered in cat hair. Haven’t vacuumed either. We manage to make dinners more often than not, so that’s something. I know the feeling.

    I have my day job. I hate it. You know why? It’s not writing. I, too, would give anything to just write – what I want – full time and have that pay the bills. Hell, I’d give anything to write NOT what I want full time. At least I’d always be writing. I’m pouring so much of my spare time into my screenplay, and I write because it makes me happy. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  6. I love this. I’ve read people who talk about their writing goals in terms of book sales and fame and money.

    And there is nothing wrong with wanting those things.

    But if you told me right this second that you knew for a certainty that none of those things would happen for me, I’d still write. It’s what I love to do. It always has been.

    As always, lovely post!

  7. Hi Marcy & Lisa,

    Thank you for the post. The timing was good as I got a particularly hefty knockback this morning & am still reeling.

    I write because it has got me by the throat. If I don’t write for a length of time, I become bad tempered and snappy and want to cry for no good reason. I dream vividly violent nightmares if I don’t write.

    On the other hand… I don’t have many friends any more – I don’t have time. There are a constant string of parties/invites/occasions I cry off because I need to continue with the novel… I am conscious that my family also draw the short straw – while I am a loving grandmother, there are times when I feel a bit put upon that I’m having the children AGAIN, when I’m desperate to keep the writing going… I also have a recurring back injury that won’t properly heal because of the HOURS I spent sitting in front of a computer screen… There is a high price to pay for this obsession – and I sometimes think that if I had my time again, I’d take up gardening, instead.

    • I’ve been in the same type of situation where I’ve had to say no to events with friends because I needed to write. It’s a tough spot to be in, and we can only hope that they understand that it doesn’t mean we don’t care about them. It just means we’ve chosen an unusual activity.


  8. I write because I have to. I wake up in the morning and I’m excited when I think about it. The thought of it – and those few minutes here and there I steal throughout the day to do it – are what gets me through the day sometimes. And even if I never get paid to do it, I’m not going to stop.

  9. Thank you for such a timely post–I’m just at point that feel like putting my story out of its misery. 😛

    I write because it has always helped decipher the world.
    It makes me feel at peace.
    It brings me closer to God.
    Those are the good days. 🙂

    Bad days it’s like giving birth.
    Although the pure joy at the end of it all…

    Right now I’m battling the time eating monster.
    I have four kids who I homeschool.
    A part time job to bring in a little extra income.
    Extra activities to drive the kids to.
    A house that rarely gets washed floors.

    I sacrifice time with my husband (who is very supportive).
    I sacrifice being involved in the church.
    I sacrifice sanity some days.

    Today for a moment I though I might give it up,
    just for a moment though.
    Then reality sank in…
    a world without scenes painted with words?

  10. I love this. I have tried to explain to my family that I just HAVE to. I have an imagination of a 6 yr old and it needs a place to go. I use writing to let out my frustrations, my thoughts, my emotions and tell stories that I might not be able to tell otherwise. When I haven’t written for a few days I start going crazy. I actually get really anxious and have to just sit and type.

  11. Hi – great insights, both in your blog and in the comments (David – yeah, exactly. Me too) . That balance/priority thing is the difficult part. And the no-holidays. And the getting tired because of the deadlines. I’m on a publisher contract deadline myself, right now, which isn’t just killing my home life, it’s stopping me getting at the Book I Really Want To Write But Don’t Yet Have Contracted.

    I blogged about “why” people write myself, a few days back (welcome to check it out: http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/nature-or-nurture-why-writers-are-compelled-to-write-part-1/) – but I think you’ve both hit the nail on the head. It’s a calling. It Has To Be Done.It’s a vocation.People write because they don’t know how not to.

    Spot on.

    And that, I think, sums up the truth (really,The Truth) about how it is for all writers. Good stuff!

    Matthew Wright

  12. Wonderful post! Like the others who have commented, I write because I have to. I write because there are stories and worlds and characters in my head who must be given life and who demand a voice. I write because without it, I would be less human.

    I stopped writing for a while, partly because of the demands of my grad school program, and partly because I had had a falling out with my writing partner of 5 years. I thought I had lost the ability to write stories, and I tried to put writing out of my mind, but I was utterly miserable. It took a lot of hard work and effort to overcome my fears of failure and my sense of defeat, but I’m writing again, and managing to juggle it with working on a MA thesis. It’s a challenge, but it makes me feel so much happier and fulfilled.

  13. My husband came home the other evening and I was in the living room watching Twilight with our daughter (yeah, but cut me some slack;she picked it) and he was stunned. It was the first evening I’d left my cubbie-hole (where my pc is) in weeks. Then he spotted the ms on my lap and the red pen in my hand. Yup it was edits. He said, ‘Phew the world isn’t about to end then?’

    So I give up time. The school holidays have flown by because I’ve been writing. But I have got a first draft finished. I have a day job and try and squeeze shopping, cooking, cleaning (not so much) and doing the laundry into the remaining time slots. There aren’t very many. But whille I’m doing mundane jobs I’m still writing, listening to those voices in my head. And I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. Which I don’t 😀

  14. I write because something feels missing if I don’t. I say I write, but I often fall out of the habit and find it hard to get back in. I hate those times, because that’s when the hole in me feels deepest (that sounded wanky, but I know what I mean). Current slump prompted me to write this:


    I was looking for quotes for this post, and my favourite one was:
    “I do not like to write – I like to have written.” – Gloria Steinem

    which sums up my feelings nicely at the moment. Getting into it is hard as hell, but afterwards the feeling of accomplishment outweighs the pain!

    • I think that’s a very common feeling among writers. Writing can be hard, frustrating work, but the satisfaction we get from having written, and being able to see and read our words in physical form on the page, makes it all worth it.

      Marcy 🙂

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