Why you want to write is an important question to consider because the answer will guide you in the direction to achieve that goal. Knowing your motivation will in turn help you understand why you do or don’t feel fulfilled with your progress. While I was always enchanted with the idea of writing, it wasn’t until high school I had a “concrete” thought about why I wanted to write: I thought it would be “cool” to tell people I was a writer. While a smidge embarrassed, I honestly promise that was my first motivation. I also had this romantic idea of what the writing life promised . . . somewhat of a mystique was attached to it. Many years later I discovered the two reasons I wanted to write. More important, these two reasons are what it is about writing that satisfies me.
The first reason I write is because I enjoy the creative process. I like taking raw materials and molding them into a completed whole. The end result has my thumbprint on it. The second reason is that I love sharing what I have learned with others. I chose to write these columns for these reasons: I enjoyed coming up with an overall topic for the GWA website and then breaking the topic into short posts I hope will benefit you. And while I don’t claim to be a famous writer, I am a published one and receive acceptances on a regular basis. I wish that good fortune to all of you; so, if something I’ve shared can help you, I will feel “satisfied.” In short, I write to receive joy from the creative process and contentment from sharing my experiences with others.
There are other reasons for wanting to be a writer. Some of the most common responses I’ve heard to this question are:
- I enjoy making up stories.
- I want to make my living as a writer.
- I have a story to tell.
Each reason is valid, but let’s look at each one and see how that particular mind-set will influence what you choose to write. If you enjoy making up stories, then fiction will most likely be your area. If you want to make a living from writing, you will probably need to look at the nonfiction market. I have a story to tell can fall under either.
Let’s take number two specifically. There are many paying careers in the writing field. The money I’ve earned has come through journalism-type reporting and through devotionals. I’ve made very little money writing fiction. True, some authors make money (some make lots), but as a general rule fiction writers need another career to support their writing lives. You could teach writing or conduct writing workshops, but that is not fiction writing. Steven King and J. K. Rowling need never teach another class as long as they live, but they are the exceptions, not the rule.
So, if your “why” for writing is to earn your living and you choose fiction, you may be published but not fulfilled because you are not receiving an income from the writing. On the other hand, if you enjoy making up stories, but you have a well-paid job writing manuals, you may not feel satisfied because your creativity is stifled. Knowing your expectations will help you target what you need to write.
I had an interesting experience a couple of years ago at a SCBWI conference. I attended to learn about publishing children’s books. I met a woman who was paid by a publisher to write series of books on specific, nonfiction topics, her most recent series on reptiles. I was impressed by the quality and number of books she’d had published. She was there to learn how to “break into” the magazine market. At the time, I’d had several short stories published in children’s magazines and take-home leaflets, many with large circulations. When I asked her why she’d possibly want to do what I was doing, she replied, “I want to be read.” She went on to explain that most of her books sat in libraries and were only checked out when someone had to write a report.
That day I learned a third reason I write: I like to be read. There are no right or wrong reasons, but understanding your motivations will define what kind of author you should be. And while still a smidge embarrassed, I’ll admit - it is cool to tell someone I’m a published writer.
Step Three: Make a list of the reasons why you want to write, write everyday, and sign your name to it.