The Only Good Reason to Write

The Only Good Reason to WriteI was absolutely blown away by the response I received to the post of a few weeks back: “6 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Protect Creativity.” In this post, I came forward with some of the surprising, painful, and ultimately liberating truths I have discovered on my road to becoming a successful author. I talked about how success isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be and how, if you’re unprepared for its reality, it can quickly turn itself into soul-sucking drudgery.

I felt compelled to write that post simply because the things I have been learning in the past few years were things no one else really seemed to be talking about. In the face of the many kind emails I often receive saying, “you make it look so easy” and “I don’t know how you do it,” it would have been disingenuous, at best, to pretend the journey to success as a modern-day author really is as easy, happy, and fulfilling as we’re always told it should be.

I wanted to share that post. But I wasn’t sure how it would be received. Would people get it? Were my experiences too specific to my own life to be insightful for others? Would my feelings perhaps even be criticized as ungrateful when I have been lucky enough to live the dream of so many writers?

But you did, indeed, get it. Oh boy, did you get it!

I knew in my heart that post was important, but I had no idea how important. Not only was the site flooded with comments and shares, but I don’t think I have ever received more emails about a single post. I was deeply touched and encouraged, and I thank you all for that. But, even more, I realized the tremendous importance of this universal conundrum: how to strive for worthwhile success, in all its many facets, while remaining centered in the values that make life and art truly meaningful and fulfilling for us all.

One of the emails I received was from Bill DeWitt:

Would you talk a little more about … why not to write from a motivation for publication and fame, and what motivation should guide you? And even some ideas how to better get there?

In that original post, I discussed several steps you can take to protect your creative energy. Today, at the urging of Bill and so many more of you, I want to talk about some of things you might need to be protecting your creativity from.

5 Reasons Writers Write That Make Them Unhappy

As any writer who has sought to create complex and realistic characters knows motivations are tricky. The reasons we choose to do things are often dimensional, sometimes paradoxical, sometimes hidden even from ourselves. Very often, we can do things for the right reasons and the wrong reasons all at the same time. And other times, motivations that started out as one thing can slowly morph into the other, as time and circumstances evolve our understanding and experience of life.

That’s just the way it is. It’s neither good nor bad, but simply a truth we’d all do well to recognize and prepare for.

Total disclaimer: Every single one of the following “negative reasons” for writing have been huge catalysts in my own journey at one point or another. And, truthfully, they were all effective in their time and place. I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.

But they’re still negative. We need to recognize them as such, uncover the deeper primal motivations driving them, confront them, and use them as launch pads to greater growth.

1. Greed

Ah, money. I often think of Jo March’s statement in the 1994 adaptation of Little Women, in which she growls:

I hate money!

Jo March Winona Ryder Little Women

What she meant was that she hated that she and her family needed money. Because wouldn’t life be so much simpler if we could forget about food and just live for the rarefied gratification of art and philosophy?

Everyone wants to live a life of fulfillment, and for most of us this starts with finding a livelihood that supports that—in every sense. If you can make your living doing whatever it is you love best, then how awesome is that?

But there’s a dark side to “filthy lucre.” It is archetypal in its symbolism: of safety and security, of personal validation, of power. It requires almost superhuman courage and honesty to be able to take only what you truly need to live on and reject the rest.

Instead most of us are always in pursuit of “just a little more.”

Just a little more security.

Just a little more comfort.

Just a little more admiration.

Just a little more power.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to earn a living from your writing. There is also nothing inherently wrong with seeking a certain measure of monetary proof that you and your writing have worth beyond your own interests.

But it’s a hairline between a healthy pursuit of money and the subtle cancer of greed.

2. Inferiority

Another thing we talked about in the previous post was how there’s no such thing as “enough” success. It’s not like you reach a certain goal or milestone—publishing that first book, selling a thousand copies, winning an award, earning a living—and suddenly you feel like: “Oh, yeah, this is it. I’ve totally made it. Now I can relax and enjoy myself.”

Success is a drug. One success, however small, just makes you hungry for the next… and the next… and the next… and the next. Until one morning you wake up and realize you have no clue what “success” actually means.

For most of us, I’d venture this mindset arises from a sense of inferiority. It’s almost ironic. Just about every human ever born (and, for my money, you can remove the “just about”) feels inferior to every other human ever born. So we all spend our existences running around like hamsters, trying to “out-success” each other, so we’ll all see what amazing people we really are.

I believe almost all the atrocities in this world come down to the individual’s inability to find acceptance and forgiveness. As in the Gaslight Anthem song “National Anthem”:

With everything discovered just waiting to be known
What’s left for God to teach from His throne?
And who will forgive us when He’s gone?

We can only show compassion and love to others to the extent that we are first able to accept and extend that same grace.

Trying to fill the hole of inferiority by shoveling is successes is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon. Not gonna happen in this lifetime. The more successes you gain, the more you realize it’s a losing battle—and the more inferior you feel.

3. Insecurity

Publishing a book is hard. Not only are you putting your heart and soul out there, you’re also pulling back an irrevocable curtain on your skills. Whether your writing is truly any good or not is suddenly out there for everyone to see and judge. And judge they will.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think insecurity is a reason we write. In fact, it seems like it would be a reason not to write. But I see it all the time: writers who put their work out there, not really believing it’s any good, and yet craving desperately the validation that someone will impossibly think that it is.

Certainly, I do this as well.

The problem with this is twofold:

1. The opinions of others, even a consensus, do not necessarily determine the worth of something.

2. Sooner or later, someone will hate your writing.

If you’re putting your work out there with the (probably subconscious) belief that if people like your work, then it has value—well then, you must also submit to the flip side. Whenever someone doesn’t like your work, it must therefore have no value.

That’s obviously baloney, on a number of levels. But we all feel it, deep in our guts. If we’re not able to reach a place from which we write for reasons beyond the validation of others, we will live in a constant state of fear, discouragement, and despair.

4. Jealousy

Jealousy is a big thing among writers. This is both surprising and not. After all, we’re humans, and humans are very good at feeling that, if we’re just a little better than Brother and Sister over there, then we’re also worth just a little more.

But the jealousy of one writer for another is also pretty nonsensical. Your success in no way endangers mine. In fact, not only do I get the opportunity to learn from how you gained your success, I’m also likely to benefit from the goodwill and enthusiasm you’re cultivating in the reading community.

Readers don’t just buy one book. They buy one book, read it, love it, and immediately want to repeat the experience. Who says they can’t follow up Stephen King’s latest with yours?

Jealousy is insidious, dangerous, and entirely without merit. It is grounded in a belief that “I have to be better than you to matter.” Craziness.

Yes, look upon your fellow authors’ successes and be inspired to emulate them. But your worth and the worth of your abilities has absolutely nothing to do with how you compare to others. There will always be someone behind you on the track and someone ahead of you. In fighting that reality, you’re really fighting no one but yourself.

5. Self-Belittlement

So many writers denigrate their own talents. We all have those moments when we re-read a passage we excitedly wrote a few days ago, only to find that, to today’s eyes, it looks pretty bad. Certainly it doesn’t compare to the masters of the craft.

Cue the self-flagellation.

Writers are so hard on themselves.

Who cares if you can’t write like Faulkner? Who cares if you’re not writing as well today as you will next year or in twenty years?

Yeah, I know. You care. And this burning need to get to a place where you feel good about your writing keeps you going—because writers are also tenacious little dogs. That part is good. The part that is not good is the part where you’re not having any fun.

Writing, as much as any other human pursuit, is a process of continual growth. And just like that gawky period of adolescent growing pains, it is often ugly, messy, and difficult. It is an exploration of the deepest parts of yourself—your soul and your brain. It is a refinement of your thought processes. It is an admission and acceptance of your fundamental beliefs.

That’s rough. But it’s also unspeakably beautiful. Don’t miss out on the beauty of your ever-evolving imperfections because you’re so busy berating yourself for not being flawless. You try, and for today that is enough. As Samuel Beckett said:

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

The 1 Happy Reason You Should Be Writing

The one common thread in all of the above reasons for writing is that they are all pursuits of affirmation. The money, the acclaim, the good reviews—they all tell you, “I can do this, I am good at this, I’m not just kidding myself.” Once everyone else thinks you’re great, it gives you permission to believe it yourself.

Here’s a truth: I don’t regret, in any measure, having been driven, for a time, by the above motivations. The results have been affirming. They have answered a question in my soul. I can look back to who I was ten years ago before I published my first book, and I can see how much confidence and, yes, peace, I have gained by reaching my goals. I don’t have as much to prove to other people as I did, but even more importantly, I don’t have to prove it to myself.

That’s worthwhile.

But here’s a greater truth: Success may have given me the courage to see and claim my worth as a writer and a person, but success is not my worth.

Having achieved my version of success, in large part, I can look back at it and realize that rather than “me being nothing without it,” it is, instead, “nothing without me.” I could quit right now, walk away, live like a homeless person, and never write another book—and, so long as I was at peace with that, my journey would be just as worthwhile.

The same is true for writers who have yet to find commercial success. Your success as a writer and a person has nothing to do with external validation. Indeed, leaning upon exterior validation is a crutch. It’s great when it comes, but it is only truly a success when it is a beacon of the greater light shining within that writer.

So Why Should You Be Writing?

At the end of the day, there is really only one good reason to write. There is only one reason that will bring you fulfillment regardless your external circumstances, regardless the amount of money you’re making or the number of books you’re selling.

You must write because there is a call upon your mind and soul.

Because you can’t not write.

Because you are compelled to explore yourself and the world around you.

Because you are willing to be courageously honest with whatever answers your questions may find.

Because art is the highest endeavor of man.

Because in the act of creation, you are adding something to the world rather than just taking.

Write because this is who you and what you were meant to bring to this life.

None of the rest of it matters. Not really. Not in the long run. And if you can keep it in its proper perspective right now, in the short run, you will have found the secret to living a centered, empowered, kind, genuine, aware, and meaningful life. Period.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is the ultimate reason you write? Are there any negative motivations distracting you from that? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Daeus Lamb says:

    Inferiority? *gulp* Yep. I couldn’t help an internal reaction when I read that one. It’s hard to be okay with not being the very best, but I’m learning…slowly. 😀

  2. Wow, Katie – thank you, again, for this. It hit so many switches, I cried.

    At the end of it all, I can say: I can’t not write. That’s what I have to do, want to do, need to do. It’s the only way I get to understand my little corner of the world.

  3. A profoundly truthful post! Thank you!

    I write because God has called me to write. Frederick Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Writing is that place for me.

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn Diorio

  4. Another beautiful post, Katie – thank you. I needed this today.

    “You must write because there is a call upon your mind and soul.” Something to add to my inspirational quote pile, but more importantly, I think this speaks to the only timeless motivation we could ever have for making art.

    Really helps put my place on my writing journey in perspective.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      All the other reasons come and go depending on our exterior circumstances. That one never changes.

  5. I’m new to the game, but I think I want to write this novel the way I might if I found some promising driftwood: I can see something in it, but only vaguely – and it’s calling to me. I don’t know how to carve wood, but now I want to learn. I read and watch everything I can about how to do it. Then I carve it and hope my skills are enough for this first attempt.

    Success would be the piece turning out how I wanted, at least partially. Everyone else may loathe it, but I did it for me, it works for me. I turned something vague inside my head into a tangible reality. The next one, if I get the call, might be better still.

  6. Truth!!! Thank you, Katie.

  7. I write to give . . . to give many things… laughter, encouragement, perspective, hope, comfort, entertainment. And nothing gives me more joy than hearing somebody was moved by my words (ok, a bunch of puppies, maybe!) Sometimes I play games with myself… if somebody offered me a million bucks to stop writing, would I take it? I don’t think so. A billion? hmmm … See? My imagination won’t quit!

  8. Jenni G. W. says:

    Love this post, Katie! The point on insecurity definitely hits close to home. Especially the part about thinkin’ your writing is rubbish and subconsciously reaching for validation that it’s not through success. I struggle with that one the most.
    And, wowzers. That “correct motivation” sounds a bit intimidating, I have to admit. 😛 It’s like what another writer I know says: if you can /not/ write, if you actually can stop writing, then stop right now.
    Because if you were meant to be a writer, then nothing will stop you from writing in the long run.
    And that idea always kind of scared me. What if I stop and realize that I /can/ not write? What if I’m not meant to be a writer? Honestly, I’m still not 100% sure what my answer to that is. I know for certain that I can’t stop /storytelling/, but I still have to find out whether or not I can not write, or can’t not write. Whether I can write for the right reasons. (And please, three cheers for phrasing that gives everyone a headache. 😂)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      In contemplating future possibilities that scare me, I’ve come to realize that when something is *right*–when it’s the only possible thing that can be–then it is never truly painful. It is always holistic and beautiful in its time, even if it’s still difficult. Until we reach that moment, where it feels *right*, then we don’t have to worry about it.

  9. I really believe that if a story resonates with any readers at all, it is a success. The story may have been meant only for a few readers. We never know what the story did for those readers, and how it may have affected their lives (or their stories or art). The difficulty is how to get that story written if you think it is only going to reach a few readers. We are human beings, and the pure part of our motives is not always enough to put us in motion. As you said, at any given moment, we are probably motivated by both our virtues and our vices, and all we can do is keep moving forward.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally agree with this. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if the story is meaningful *only* to the writer herself, it is still a success. Success is a very slippery word. We have to clearly understand our goals to understand what “success” even means.

  10. So good! Thank you, Katie! What a great follow up to that original post. The fact that your original post resonated with SO MANY people in this community and generated such a high response rate says something about the quality of this blog and the people who read it. In a world full of Internet trolls trying to tear down all things genuine, it was SO GOOD to hear that so many people sent their support your way. Love it!

  11. Eric Troyer says:

    While working on my characters I like to refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I suppose it could also be used to explore my OWN needs, writing-related and otherwise.

  12. betty gipson says:

    The reason I write is that I love a good story. I like and feel compelled to create my own stories. I wrote a play when I was 11 that my class produced and I’ve been hooked since even before that. I’ve written 4 novels but only tried to publish 1 and that was 30 years ago. I’ve studied the craft. Taken in-person classes from successful authors but in spite of good feedback from a variety of sources, I still feel insecure and inadequate. I do a lot of beta reading and reading of ARCs offering advice that I’ve learned over the years and offering encouragement in all the things they do well. Most incorporate my advice and go on to do very well with their books. Why do my insecurities hold me back? I’m 57 now and it’s time to put my writing out there and face my fear.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You have a great story, Betty. I wish you all the best. 🙂

    • Sally Chetwynd says:

      Go for it, Betty! If your perceptions are precise enough to help other writers make their stories so much better that they do well, you undoubtedly have a goodly measure of talent with words.

      Yeah, maybe someone will tear your work down, but how many others will find much value in it? (IM not-so HO, a majority.) You are not obligated to listen to the naysayers.

      And even if it doesn’t become a bestseller, does that matter so much? If it remains in your closet, it will never become a bestseller. For me, the satisfaction of having completed a good story is the cake. Fame is the frosting. I used to prefer just the cake when I was a kid, begging my mother to cut a piece out and set it aside for me before she frosted it. Yeah, I know, I’m weird, but I’m OK with that. 😉

      I tell fellow writers and those I meet who talk about wanting to write, “Just write it. No one else can tell YOUR story.”

    • Betty, I can relate. For most of my life I dabbled at fiction while writing non-fiction almost exclusively. But I found the courage somehow to begin writing stories. The resistance is STRONG! Look it in the eye and write. Resistance is strongest when you have something valuable to say. Write today! Bob

  13. Gary D. Huddleston says:

    Good writing. HAHA. I was always writing stories in my head when I was younger. I even sat down and wrote a 50 page “short” story one year while on vacation with my wife. I am not sure she enjoyed the quiet time as much as I did. I shared the story with friends and relatives but never attempted to publish it other than making those copies. That was a time before there were computers in desktop or laptop. Now, I still have stories to tell and along came these handy tools on the computer. Now, I can write the stories and self-publish and you know what? I don’t care if they are read. It would be nice to see that someone has read my stories but if no one does, it doesn’t matter to me. I am retired. I live comfortably with my wife and 3-year-old son. We have the essentials the same as when I was growing up and didn’t know we were poor. I don’t have greed, jealousy, insecurity or those other things that keep people from writing. I like to think that I am that old man rocking on the front porch and the kids in the neighborhood come to hear my stories. If they don’t, that’s okay. I will enjoy sitting in my rocker and watching the world go by. then I’ll get up and go to the grocery store.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I want to be you when I grow up. 🙂

    • Sally Chetwynd says:

      One of my most cherished books is a memoir by a WWII combat marine who managed to get his book published a few months before he died. He and his wife, both of them dear friends for several years, sent me a copy. As I read it, I felt just like I was sitting at their kitchen table sharing cups of coffee, hearing him tell of growing up in a small town and going off to war, making friends with natives in the South Pacific, etc. It isn’t great literature, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s his heart I hear speaking, and that is the best thing about it. If we can all reveal our hearts in our work, it will speak to our readers.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Coincidentally, one of my favorites was about an aviation pioneer, whose book was only published by his grandchildren after his death. It touched me and I think of it often. And he never knew it was published.

  14. “Because you can’t not write.”
    “Write because this is who you and what you were meant to bring to this life.”

    If only it were so simple! I wish that destiny had risen inside of me, taken hold of me, and said, “This is who you are, and what you will do, and it is good.”

    In middle age, I can look back at choices, and think, “Yes, it was good to be a father, and good to choose a career that would support my wife and children. It is good to be there for them, and love them. These were choices I have had to make.”

    But in the moment, does it ever feel like that? It’s only the past and its tendrils into the present that feel inevitable. In the now, there are many choices, and they can be difficult. There are so many things in life worth doing – which to commit time to?
    The advice to write only if one must seems to indicate that writing will not be rewarding. Yet what you seem to be saying is slightly different: that if the internal reward is not enough, the external reward never will be. I think I agree with that.

    Getting a job, working hard at it, taking care of one’s family, and managing all the little necessities of maintaining life – these are things that one must do, for external reasons. It is good to be reminded that there are a few things that can only be worth doing for their own sake. I suppose if one ever becomes successful enough, finding the two world merge must become a little surreal.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think, too, we are called to be different people at different times of our lives. Life is really just about dealing with what is in front of us at given moment, and doing with wholeness, grace, and joy. Sometimes writing is in front of us; sometimes it’s not.

      • Sally Chetwynd says:

        And I find that my life experience enriches my writing vastly, so most of us couldn’t do a good job if we never did anything else. My mother – 93 in a week – writes about episodes with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren every week for her writing group, marvelous little vignettes gleaned from a life she continues to live richly.

      • “Life is really just about dealing with what is in front of us at given moment, and doing with wholeness, grace, and joy.”

        Well said!

  15. Insecurity? Oh yeah – self-doubt, low self-esteem these could have been my middle names. This is something I’ve been working really hard on. I’ve started stories before, but then that old inner critic says ‘This is garbage!” and I’d cave. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t but I never let myself find out. This time I’ve told that inner critic to pack up and take a long vacation. This time I want to find out! And if it is garbage? Oh, well, gotta start at the bottom then the only way I can go is up! Doing anything well is a learning curve, I just need to let myself travel the path.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yay! Goodbye, infernal internal editor. I always like to tease that I tie up mine in the closet with duct tape over her mouth. :p

  16. Megan Brummer says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes.

    Cheering and applauding over here.

    This and the “Lifestyle Changes” post have resonated with me on a very deep level. I found myself stuck in the hamster wheel this year, self-flaggelating because I wasn’t living up to all the well-meaning advice for writers out there.

    And it’s not inherently BAD advice, but it got me way off focus and feeling ashamed that I wasn’t where I thought I should be on the road to “success.”

    You gave me the permission I needed to take a step back, take a deep breath, and just remember to have fun as I create an explore. To write for ME instead of for an audience. To pursue my stories for the thematic value they have in my own life and growth instead of for their sheer marketability.

    Thank you <3

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Like you, I don’t think it’s “bad” advice. But it’s just part of the journey. They’re experiences we have to go through to gain the experience to know better. They’re stepping stones to a better, more balanced life. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  17. In regards to your ‘6 lifestyle changes’ post, I remember listening to it on a walk to the store to pick up some groceries, after an admittedly very hard several months — okay years, of struggling with these sort of emotions toward my writing projects, one of which is in the querying process toward the goal I hope to achieve of traditional publication, art projects, and my side-hustle that’s paying the bills. The first thing I wanted to do after I got back home was comment, but I found that I had no words that could adequately convey how deeply grateful and touched I was by that post, and this one struck me no less deeply.

    You have become a shining beacon in my life, the one I look toward when I get locked in that soul-crushing and creativity-crushing mindset of ‘nothing really matters unless I achieve, achieve, achieve’ and forget the ‘real reason’ why I have put so much time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into what I love to do.

    Thank you so much for being the radiant soul you are, for all that you do, and for continuing to share that light with all of us in this community you have so lovingly and courageously built.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Amanda, I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve experienced some rough years. However, I do believe these experiences are ultimately invaluable blessings, and I pray the same will be true for you. Very glad the posts were worthwhile for you! 🙂

  18. Cecilia Marie Pulliam says:

    Excellent! And I am sharing. I know several who will benefit from reading this.

    Thanks, Katie.

  19. “At the end of the day, there is really only one good reason to write. There is only one reason that will bring you fulfillment regardless your external circumstances, regardless the amount of money you’re making or the number of books you’re selling.

    You must write because there is a call upon your mind and soul.

    Because you can’t not write.

    Because you are compelled to explore yourself and the world around you.

    Because you are willing to be courageously honest with whatever answers your questions may find.

    Because art is the highest endeavor of man.

    Because in the act of creation, you are adding something to the world rather than just taking.

    Write because this is who you and what you were meant to bring to this life.

    None of the rest of it matters. Not really. Not in the long run. And if you can keep it in its proper perspective right now, in the short run, you will have found the secret to living a centered, empowered, kind, genuine, aware, and meaningful life. Period.”

    A few months ago, I had a very low moment, and for the first time in my life, I questioned my desire to be a writer. I wasn’t just considering pursuing a different career, I was considering stopping writing altogether. “You’ll never make any money from it,” the discouraging voices in my head cried, “You’ll never write anything good enough to be published.” While I recovered from that doubt, I’m still trying to stave those thoughts off. This post affirmed my calling and reminded me that I’m not writing to make money or even to be published. I am writing because this is who I am and what I was meant to bring to life.

    Thank you, Katie.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I went through that period too, while writing what would become my second published book Behold the Dawn. Mostly, my internal conflict was about whether writing itself was a worthwhile pursuit–whether or not art was a waste of time. I did, of course, come to the adamant conclusion that it’s not just worthwhile, but essential. 🙂 However, I’m very glad to have experienced that period of soul-searching. It was painful, but it’s benefits continue to ripple into my life today.

  20. Sally Chetwynd says:

    I am lucky (I think) that I get really interesting inspirations to write, and on more than one occasion, the characters of my novel that has been published and those in the novel I am currently working on have become such good friends that I just take direction from them to find out where the story is going. William Faulkner once said,

    “I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical.”

    I often feel like Faulkner, trotting along behind and collecting the tidbits the characters drop along the way.

    In one instance, a short story idea came to me and kept hammering at me until I got it written down. It pestered me all night long, and I really wanted to get some sleep, for I was exhausted by the day’s activities. That’s kind of cool, unless you have to function at a job the next day! (In this case, I was on unemployment.)

    I’m definitely a “I write because I can’t not write” type. But I don’t have to rely on my writing to support my physical needs. It might be nice if it did someday, but in the meantime, I plug away on stuff I am excited to write and which provide a challenge.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There’s great things to be said about earning a living from your writing, and great things to be said about not earning a living from your writing. So enjoy the chapter you’re in now. If it later evolves into something else, you will then get to enjoy that too. 🙂

    • Great quote from Faulkner! I feel that is why I am almost done with first draft.

  21. I write because I want to share the biggest best kept secret in the world. Currently, only 0.0088% of the world population know about it, and benefits from it.

    I’m not a writer type of person, plus I hate books, I almost fall asleep the minute I open a book, but because I think it’s a meaningful thing I forced myself to write 7 chapters, still got a few more to go for the ending.

    I’m also asking all my friends who know me in this world, to contribute a chapter to my book, to make it more interesting and truthful

  22. Jack Mulcahy says:

    Hi there, K.M.!

    I read your post on The Only Good Reason to Write, and kept encountering all the reasons NOT to write, fearful that I’d find my reason listed among the negatives. My relief at not finding my reason there was overshadowed by the fear that somehow you’d miss my reason. How gratifying to find that my reason matches your reason. I truly cannot not write. I have this grand story buzzing in my head, and all these characters that want to be brought into the light of day. How wonderful to know that I’m doing this labor of love for the right reason! Thanks so much for articulating what I’ve felt for a long time.

  23. thank you so much for this post! it came at the right time as i am beginning to get into the writing world and am editing my first novella. your posts are always so helpful. i thank God for you!

  24. Great post! I write for several reasons. It’s how I make sense of myself and the world around me. To fill the world with all the stories I wished I had growing up. And to show people the unconquerable, eternal strength of the human spirit.

  25. I wrote about 6 chapters in 6 months while seeking gainful employment. Since then, I wrote just 2.5 chapters in a 9-chapter book. I am now, I think, two scenes away from first draft.

    To me, the writing is like coming back to a good book that I’m reading, or a good series that comes out for another year … I wonder how they are doing.

    The following is an example of how slow and how cool it is.

    I was having a hard time starting the last chapter. I needed some specific words to capture my imagination. I went out to dinner by myself and somewhat listened to two guys talking. One used a word and it shook my innards! I wrote one one paragraph that night. Three weeks later I was at a music festival and another ray of sunlight hit me. I wrote another paragraph.

    I am employed but I write because I like these people. And like a good story, it makes me happy!

  26. Wow, that was a good post. I can definitely see myself in there, for better or worse. Thank you for holding up a mirror!
    ~Esther

  27. I have been reading your blog posts for the last two years and this is the first time I’ve been compelled to comment. This isn’t because I haven’t found value in your other posts. They have all been immensely helpful and worthwhile to read, but this one really “hit home” for me. Writing can certainly be a struggle, a beautiful struggle, but a challenge, nonetheless. This is a reminder that, writing may not always be easy, but it should always be true. It’s about staying true to yourself and your journey – whatever that may be – and staying clear of negativity and other influences that inhibit your ability to create.

    Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thank you for chiming in, Krista! 🙂 “Writing may not always be easy, but it should always be true”–this is the first tenet of the writing life. Of life in general even.

  28. I heartedly agree, K.M.!

  29. “Adding something to the world instead of just taking.” I’m going to keep coming back to these words when doubts creep in and I wonder ‘why bother?’ Thanks for such insightful, helpful posts.

  30. Fiction writing has come late in my life after I’ve established myself in my office job, my home business and my hobby. In those communities, I am fairly well known. In those, I’ve also experienced all your points to one degree or another – but I think that has immunized me so that I can be much freer in my writing.

    As a teen I was painfully shy and still struggle with anxieties. Most of it is from a fear of failure, and no matter how much success I’ve had, embers of that fear still remain.

    A few years ago I got an unsolicited email about my family tree from a woman who was my father’s first cousin. Her father, my grandfather’s brother, had left my hometown and started a new family. She was in search of older brothers that she had only heard rumors about. I didn’t have the information at hand, but I was able to find that two of the three were still living in another state, and passed the contact information along to her. My grandfather’s family was never close, but I had plans for a family reunion so that the younger generations could get to know each other. And then Debbie died. She had said on Facebook about her breast cancer, but she was so upbeat it never seemed that bad until the day she was gone, and I had never met her in person. She was only four years older than me, and the awareness of my own mortality brought back memories and caused some deep introspection.

    So I started writing. My book opens with a character who is a copy of the mess of myself at nineteen, and ends with him meeting the woman who is based on the one who is now my wife. In between is not what actually happened to me, but a collection of anecdotes from all over my life mixed in with lots of pure fantasy. It’s a brutally honest story, with sex and booze and broken relationships and parents and children at odds, of a group of teens struggling to grow up. What is most validating to me are several comments from young people who have read early versions of the hope that it has given them – that no matter how bad things may seem at that time I’ve shown them hope. I can live with that whether I ever finish this or ever make a dime off of it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I was just doing an interview for a podcast this morning and we were talking about how important honesty is in fiction–that, indeed, it’s the central tenet that makes it resonate with readers.

  31. For me it is that I have to. The ideas are flowing in my head and they must get recorded. If I don’t then scenes either fade away (but never really disappear) or just grow stronger and repeat in my head until I get them written down. It is a passion. Just like art is a passion for me. If I am not doing one, then I am focused on the other. If I am not focused on either, then I feel a bit lost.

    The reasons “not to write” also get me too. I can add another along the lines of “inferiority” is the drive to compare against other artists/ writers; to feel inadequate; to self judge. To think I am crazy. To lie and say to myself; that it doesn’t matter, my ideas are lame; no one will read it…and so on. Those lies can shut off my creativity time to time, make things that should be fun into agony. But still under the surface I can’t kill the desire to at least try.

    I remember a friend’s quote about procrastination and perfectionism: “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” I need to take that quote to heart at times I know what I need to do but frozen in anxiety or fear.

  32. “Because you can’t not write.” Once again, Katie, you smacked it out of the park. I’ve “known” this for a while now, but I need to be reminded of it. I turn my back on writing. I swear it off like an addiction. “I’ll go cold-turkey!” But it’s no use. Only those who are writers understand what it’s like to have characters talk to you. Is this some kind of mental illness? Sometimes I wonder. It certainly is love-hate. Enough of this. I should be writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If it is a mental illness, then writing is the best catharsis I know! 😀

    • Totally understand. My bug folk annoy me sometimes. Today at work I was listening to two of my characters arguing at eachother. Then later on watching them reading a book (romance type subject) and teasing each other.

      Then tonight when I should be sleeping one of them was showing me what a bad work day would look like as an ENFJ type diplomat dealing with arguing colonies, stubborn foragers (who want to take nectar from flowers in enemy territory), a rebellious preteen saying he hates him, lazy group organizers (who fail to deliver on their promises) and INFJ type friend who peeks up from his book and is like “Welcome to my world” when all my poor dude wants is just someone to listen to him vent…

      No wonder why when his adopted child tries to run away, he’s like “Well if you’re leaving can I come with?”

      I am horrible that I don’t always write down these things, because truth be told I’d be all over the place with my series. The argument I imagined at work will be useful for the first book I am rewriting. The other scenes, though I really like them aren’t until well later….

      That said writing does help calm some of the character’s chatter down. At least then my mind is like yup, got that written, and I can move on to other scenes. Unless my mind plays a “what if” or “let’s change this scene you already wrote.” then I’m back where I started sort of.

  33. DirectorNoah says:

    Wow! Such a profound and truthful post Katie, thank you!
    Yes, I suffer sometimes with insecurity, and most definitely self-belittlement. I often struggle with the thought that my writing will never good enough to be published, that people will think “this is rubbish!”. And I never feel confident or happy with my own writing, that it’s never up to a certain standard, even though everyone tell me it’s fine. Whenever I read other author’s books, I always feel my own work falls short, that their writing is more polished than mine. I’m aware they’ve probably had more experience than me, so I try and be positive, analyse their book to find out how it’s different and where I’m failing, and then learn from it so I can improve my own work.
    My dream is to be able to write novels full time one day, but I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the experience of writing, and not try to learn everything all at once.

    Because I can’t not write is my main driving motivation. When I don’t or cannot write for whatever reason, it’s kinda like entering a dark, heavy cloud that slowly drives me mad with despair each day. Once I start writing again, the brooding shadow passes and the sky is bright again.
    My mind is always bubbling with exciting stories, characters and themes, just itching to be written. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping because of them. And I love to entertain and thrill people with my stories. If they can get some enjoyment, and perhaps derive something else from them too… well, that’s a good enough reason to write for me!
    Thank you again for an inspirational post! 😁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If I were you, I’d print out the second half of this comment and put it above your computer where you can read it every day when you start focusing on the discouragement. 🙂

      • DirectorNoah says:

        What a good idea! Thanks for that suggestion Katie, I might just do that. Getting the printer ready now…😉

  34. This one resonates with me, much like your previous post.
    I’m sure at one point or another I’ve been guilty breaking all 5 of the writer’s commandments (thou shalt not…)

    I’m reminded of Derek Doepker’s “Why Authors Fail” in which he encourages viewing success as a daily mindset rather than a single event or accomplishment. The idea has really stuck with me and helps me circumnavigate some of the pitfalls you’ve mentioned here.

    In “Lectures to my Students” Charles Spurgeon encourages his pupils not to become pastors if they could possibly be anything else. I feel almost the same way about writers. It is hard, soul-stretching work, not for the faint of heart. If there is any other way to find fulfillment, that might be the better option. But, if not, then we should write on, not for the fame or the money, not to feel better about or prove ourselves, but because to do anything else would be untrue, it would be a denial of our calling.

    Writing is tough, but it’s also deeply satisfying when done for the right reason. And who’s to say, when all is said and done, we can’t have some fun doing it?

  35. Look at all those comments! Wow…

    You sure have been swinging for the fences lately haven’t ya? :-p

  36. Thanks for another great post, Katie. In some ways it reaffirms that I’m doing this for the “write” reasons; in other ways I’m left feeling even more inadequate and confused.

    Unlike most of you, I never grew up believing there was nothing I could do but write. For me the performing arts–ballet, classical music, puppetry, theater, and comedy–were the creative passions I dreamed of pursuing. Yet, if I press my memory, I recall creating my own monthly magazine for my mother, complete with original short stories, puzzles, and hand-drawn illustrations to color. Clearly, the bug for writing and storytelling was latent in me somewhere. I even remember wondering–after I finished devouring all 14 of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books–what my fairy land would look like “when” it came time for me to write my own fantasy series for children.

    But then adult life and bills and all that rot got in the way, and I spent years in Corporate America, interspersed with singing in a classical choir and performing family puppet shows for my town’s New Year’s Eve “First Night” celebration. I sang solos in church and acted in community theater. Like many performers, I was an introvert in regular life, but on stage I came alive, and I loved it.

    But God had other ideas. He had a story idea for me in 2010 that would change my life, and one day, I hope, my readers’ lives as well. I fell in love with the story’s depth, heart, and humor, and especially the amazing characters, and I came to realize I was put here on Earth, in part, to tell this story.

    I don’t necessarily feel I can’t NOT write, Katie, but I feel I can’t NOT write this series. It is a “call upon my mind and soul,” as you said. Does that mean I’m not really a writer? Moreover, since I began immersing myself in studying writing and story structure, I have been riddled with the inferiority and belittlement feelings of which you speak. I’ve become so overwhelmed with inadequacy these past few years, I can barely write at all. I’m not enjoying it like I used to and find myself procrastinating more and more. Yet, I can’t give up, because I love this story too much; not to mention my characters would kill me in the middle of the night with their cold imaginary hands…

    Help! Am I a writer? And how can I get back my joy and freedom? Katie? Anyone? 🙁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re a writer. 🙂 You don’t have to make a career out of it or write more than one story to get to claim the title. There’s no one “right” way that this has to look. Something I’m learning and enjoying this year is the reminder that creativity doesn’t have to be limited to one sphere of life. I don’t have to be a writer to be a creator, but I can be creative in many aspects of my life, with writing being just one part of that.

      • Katie, thank you, thank you, thank you! 😀 I so needed to hear that. Oddly, I find myself torn between feeling extremely grateful for having found the rules of storytelling vs. feeling strangled by them. There was freedom in ignorance, when I would write for hours, losing myself in painting pictures with my prose, delighting in a clever exchange between characters, or making myself cry with a deeply poignant scene.

        But nowadays I don’t seem to trust my instincts at all anymore, so I’m stopping before I even start. On those rare, wonderful days I get so lost in my literary world that I finally start falling in love with writing again, I’ll “wake up” and discover the whole scene has to be scrapped because I need an inciting event or pinch point scene more.

        Katie, have you ever experienced the same struggle, and how can I retain all the structure I’ve learned without it spoiling my ability to write freely and joyfully? Thanks. You’re awesome! 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I believe we have to come to a place of harmonizing conscious and subconscious, logic and creativity. We have to learn how to balance them, so we can best optimize both. It’s a tricky balance to find sometimes, but you just have to keep working at. Don’t overthink things. For me, there were a couple “rough” books there when I was first learning structure, where I was too aware of the structural needs. But now the structure is like second nature, and I can pretty much just let the story flow again.

          • Ah, I get it. It’s like a young athlete learning to develop muscle memory, say a figure skater. At first, they’re painfully conscious of every movement, every necessary element. But soon, with time and practice, the marriage between technique and artistry becomes second nature, allowing the performance to simply flow out from body and soul in perfect synchrony.

            Thanks, Katie. I’ll keep plugging along, as you did, and let time do its perfect work.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Exactly. Great analogy.

        • I go through phases like that. That’s why I’ve been working on a series since I was age 11 and I am in my 30’s, but haven’t done anything with it. It’s frustrating. I wonder if I’ll ever get it done or if it will ever be successful. I go through phases where I just can’t stand it. The ideas are blah, or they are great, but my ability to write them down is blah…then I get burned out and switch to a different creative hobby for the duration of the writers block. Sometimes those pauses may span 1-4 years.

          It does seem each time I come back from a hiatus, I find new ways to improve the story. I finally took the leap and decided to try rewriting the series. (at the advice of a friend who said there’s only so much you can do with 10+ year old work, saying that who you are now is not who you were then and you’ve improved so much and going back over the same stuff is not helping. As much as it pained me, I’m finding the rewrite a much needed step. In the process it allows me to change the writing style.
          Try as I may I could not use the style I had pre hiatus, so i had to scrap it. Start over and the new style makes all the difference. (I decided to go first person/ multi 3rd person POV vs trying to smash it all into 3rd person like I did earlier, or worse yet before try to cut off all but the 1st person narrator. I also found it better to change the starting point of the series. Rather than have it go chronologically from my protagonist being a young kid in a classroom (fun at age 12 writing it, but as an adult re-reading BORING) to being near the end of the series, and then going back in a semi chronological system. I found that makes organizing the multi POV much better than either of the two attempts I tried before. (1st person didn’t cover the breadth of the whole series and 3rd person just left a disjointed lot of POV’s that I failed to capture the emotional attachment and thought process that I needed from my characters, or at least A character.)

          Maybe this is something to consider if you get stuck. Maybe try rewriting instead of editing and fixing piecemeal. Sometimes it helps to go back and see what scenes do you really love and what scenes are you just skipping over each time. Then figure out why you’re skipping over those scenes. Same with scenes you like but not happy with.

          What I found with my story was some ideas were great, but why they frustrated me: They didn’t follow a plot. Or if they did follow a plot it was steering away from the plot of my favorite scenes.
          Example: back to the classroom opening scene. The subject they started with was great, but not fitting for book 1. It was the subject for book 2. The plot I had in book 1 confused readers because they wanted to see more of what would happen if my characters went outside to explore the Human world, when book 1 is really about establishing a parent figure for my child character. After some harsh critiques I realized I had to divide up those scenes. I can still enjoy what I loved, but I have to change the dialogue, change the scene, but maybe not the character’s actions… (though I found myself doing so anyway.) I came up with the idea to make the classroom bully more part of the plot. I still plan to use the idea I had in the pre-rewrite but instead of being book 1, it may be in book 2 or a later chapter of book 1, depending on how it gets organized.

          I found that trying to rework the same file over and over only got me so far, but starting over gave me new motivation. Maybe it will help you too.

  37. Just one reason to add that applies to me and without doubt countless others.

    I write because I want to share the experiences that would otherwise be confined to my head. By writing I’m making emotions, adventures, thoughts and ideas a tangible reality for others, even if it is just for a moment.

    This doesn’t just apply for fiction.

    In my opinion, as long as it keeps your momentum it is a valid reason. As soon as it hinders your momentum it is not a valid reason anymore. So reasons can change over the course of time. We just have to realize and accept that this is reality.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “In my opinion, as long as it keeps your momentum it is a valid reason. As soon as it hinders your momentum it is not a valid reason anymore.”

      I agree with this. Good way to put it.

  38. Helping someone else with problems similar to those I’ve faced has been my motivation to write a book of fiction. Having read quite a few biographies about famous authors (so in other words, a limited sample) it seems that very often these writers have used autobiographical events events to write situations/scenes for their fictional characters. They
    have written what they know about, which makes sense. As this has been the case for me, I have walked, very hard, into brick walls of my own personal emotion, especially when it comes to writing the antagonist. How can my protagonist overcome the destruction caused by the antagonist in my story if I have not done the same in my personal life. Or have I? Still working on that.
    In college I took a course in psychology. The professor made sure to caution us all about psychoanalyzing our own lives. He told us it was “dangerous waters”. But we all do it, and it’s usually very negative. “I must be psycho to think that I can help anyone.”
    Thank you for your encouragement and your honesty. This post has helped me to have a more positive conversation with myself.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I never consciously write about myself or my own life. And yet I am constantly fascinated by the ways in which my stories end up reflecting me. How can they not, right? I like to say that writing is one of the best forms of catharsis, and it is for exactly this reason.

  39. Thank you K.M.Weiland! You have enlightened my day!
    Sometimes I wish I wrote without looking over the shoulder, writing like when I was little. Writing because it’s what we all love!

  40. I write to “pay it forward.” Reading made my childhood bearable. It gave me a place to escape to. Bless all the writers who did that for me. Now I write so others can escape their everyday lives. I get blessings from my readers all the time, and that makes me happy. The only time I felt “stuck,” was when I tried to work “marketing” into my life. My husband said, “Remember why you started writing in the first place. The rest isn’t important.” Thanks, Honey. I needed that reminder. “Selling,” isn’t the goal. Telling stories is.

  41. I’m a little late to comment, but I’m playing catch up. What a profound and inspiring post. It felt like you were speaking directly to me, and I’m sure everyone else felt the same. I needed that. No one will ever accuse you of not “getting” writers. Thank you.

  42. So what do you do when you’r characters are showing you tons of different scenes from different times in the book or the series and you’re unsure which one to focus on? I can’t possibly write all of them down.

    Oddly I do find even if I don’t get to it, I may not remember everything but it seems the idea does return.

    What kills me is when I have dialogue figured out and then when I go to write it I’m like oh man I forgot. Or the conversation took a different turn than you first planned.

    Sometimes I get stuck not because lack of ideas but because of all the tangents my mind takes me. That and I also get frustrated with the fact it never comes off as good in writing as it does in my head.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s a good idea to keep a notebook with you to jot down ideas when they arise. I’ve been known to write on my arm in an emergency.

  43. Curt Wellumson says:

    I”m blessed to be leading a writers group. I’m asked sometimes how to make money as a writer. I tell them the same thing I learned long ago when my passion was to learn to be a carpenter/builder; “concentrate on the product, and the money will follow.”
    I’m doing that again as a writer. Some days the front porch and watching the world go by looks good. But the stories won’t let me sit there too long! Such a joy to have this new passion.
    Here’s a question: I sold a short story to a national publication. Does their check transform me from “Writer” to “Author” !! Haha. Just kidding. Thanks for all you’re doing. It helps.

  44. “success is not my worth.”

    I think you pretty much summed it all up right there.

    Artists tend to take their work, hold it up, and say “This is me. This is who I am. If this isn’t good, then I’m no good”. So many of my issues as a writer come from deriving my identity from my writing. The battle for identity keeps changing, too, though it’s the same root problem. I might recognize this identity problem when I’m jealous of other writers because their skill threatens my own perception of my value. I’ll beat it down there, but then it rises again when I show my writing to others because I want someone else to tell me my writing is good enough, that I’m good enough.

    Since so much of an artist’s soul bleeds into their work, I don’t think it’s a fight that will ever end, and, like you said, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about being propelled by a negative motivation every once and a while. However, we can remember that writing does NOT determine our worth. This post and “6 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Protect Creativity” are awesome reminders that an artist’s value is not defined by their success or failure. Thanks so much for sharing!

  45. I have every reason listed to write – and it weighs on me heavily but I cannot seem to get the courage to put words on paper. I know exactly the story I want to write and I have tons of ideas racing through my mind about characters, settings, plots points, etc. I’ve read your book on how to structure a novel 5 times. I know part of my block is the fear that I won’t get it right. The story I want to write is about my grandparents during WWII. It would be a fictional novel based on real life events as they didn’t talk much about it other than the facts behind specific events. Now they have both passed away about 2 years ago and I feel even more compelled to write their story. It embodies the significance of faith and the amazing power of love. But what if how I choose to tell their story doesn’t adequately portray how special they were and the impact their lives had on so mamy? I talk about them and their story all the time but cannot seem to put the pieces together enough to write it down. I want write this book for my daughter especially. For me, just knowing them and understanding all they endured has helped me through the most difficult times in my life. I have struggled with significant health issues these past few years and honestly don’t know how much more a human body can take without shattering. I have a fear that I’m running out of time. It feels like a paralyzing cloud over my head that continuously follows me everywhere. I want to do this more than anything. I think about it multiple times throughout each and every day. It just seems to elude me – why can’t I start, why can’t I try harder, why can’t I just get it done even if it isn’t perfect? No need to have it published, no desire to make any money from it and anyone who doesn’t like it can have their opinion and move on. Yet I’m still struggling to even approach the writing the story. Most people who know me see me as a driven, motivated and “willing to take on any type of challenge” type of person. And now I’m facing a mountain of disappointment that I haven’t gotten over myself and just written something down.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      First of all, so sorry to hear about your health challenges. I would encourage you to be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to put the book on the back burner, indefinitely even, until it’s there for you to write in a way that’s whole and nurturing.

Trackbacks

  1. […] my email this afternoon and found notification about a blog post by K.M. Weiland entitled “The Only Good Reason to Write.” As I’ve mentioned in the last few blog posts, I’ve been struggling with […]

  2. […] https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/good-reason-to-write/ I agree with a lot of this post. You have to want to write, to last through the years of rejection and heartbreak that go on perhaps for the duration of writing. There’s always going to be rejection AND success. They go hand-in-hand. […]

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