5 reasons writers write

The 5 Reasons Writers Write

It’s the Oscars. Allow yourself a dream: the biopic of your life as a writer is up for awards!

The story follows the usual arc: obstacles, hard work, rejection, struggle, followed by the joy of publication, astronomical sales, Oprah, the Costa-Booker-Nobel Literary grand slam.

And now the film with its twelve Oscar nominations.

What excerpt will they use from this biopic of you as a famous author? What’s really driving you? Do you know the reasons writers write?

What’s at the Heart of Your Story?

A clip could show:

  • A scene from the traumatic childhood you had to overcome
  • The tearful goodbye as you left your job and love interest to focus solely on achieving your goal
  • The day you won that writing prize and proved you were an awesome writer
  • The long days crafting your writing (for older writers, the film can show a wastepaper bin filling with discarded pages)
  • The impact you had on a grateful reader, who clutches your sleeve, proclaiming, “You changed my life!”

While the end product for writers is the same–a piece of published writing–our individual motivations for writing are very different. Our sense of achievement is triggered by different aspects. Identifying what most satisfies us about writing helps us to find the right support and to understand what holds us back.

The 5 Reasons Writers Write

Those five imaginary film scenes reflect the variety of motivational drives we have as writers.

1. To Overcome

We can’t choose what life throws at us, but some of us are spurred by obstacles and opposition. Writers with this motivation love to take on the ignorant publishers who reject them and the mean one-star reviewers. They get immense satisfaction from proving the doubters wrong.

2. To Achieve the Goal

Do you like to have a clear goal to aim for? A lot of writers thrive on specific challenges like “500 words a day,” or National Novel Writing Month. They get their deepest sense of accomplishment from knowing they’ve fulfilled their goal or completed the task.

3. To Win

Few of us would turn down praise and prizes, but for some writers, beating the competition is the chief motivation. They’re motivated by a need to be the best, to stand out from the crowd, to gather accolades. They know their sales figures and Amazon rankings exactly!

4. To Create

Some writers get their chief satisfaction from the process of writing. The means matters more than the end. They spend hours if not years perfecting their prose and are avid users of writing how-to books and sites, which help them keep improving.

5. To Have an Impact

Writers with this motivation want above all to leave their mark. They’re focused on getting a response from readers or inspiring change. Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the impact being a writer has on their own lives.

We all feel these motivations to some degree, but there’ll be one or two which are present in everything we do because we can’t help ourselves. These are our key motivational drives. They drive us forward as writers, and they’re behind the greatest satisfaction we get from writing.

What Holds You Back as a Writer?

Knowing our key drives helps us understand what holds us back. For example:

  • Someone who’s motivated by the process of writing and perfecting their work, gets stuck because they’re constantly revising. They have to learn to accept “good enough.” I plead guilty to this!
  • Someone whose main motivation is to complete the task, rushes to publication without revising enough.
  • A writer whose deepest satisfaction comes from getting a positive reader response,  rests on their lowly laurels. I do this, too. It’s as if one nice comment satisfies my reason for writing, so there’s no need for any more marketing. This is not good!
  • A writer whose chief motivation is to be a published author with his name on the cover, doesn’t want to waste time editing what’s inside the book.
  • Someone focused on his performance becomes self-critical and finds it hard to cope with not being  good enough.
  • A writer who wants to have an impact goes too far and ends up shocking or alienating people

Do You Know Why You Write?

Ask yourself:

  • Which of those five motivational drives is strongest in you?
  • What is the most demotivating thing that can happen to you as a writer?
  • When have you felt the deepest sense of satisfaction as a writer–that moment when you experienced the buzz of “Yes! I did it” … “I got there” … “It happened!”
  • What film highlight will they show at the Oscars when the Biopic of your life as a writer is up for an award?

Tell me your opinion: Which of the five motivational categories fits you?

5 reasons writers write

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About Anne Borrowdale | @AnneBorrowdale

Anne Borrowdale is an author, trainer, speaker, and personal coach from Oxford, UK. She has written nine books, including five self-published contemporary novels. Her latest is Doubting Stephen. Her Oscar film highlight is the moment she first learned she could make readers cry (though she sincerely hopes this post won’t have that effect).


  1. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Anne!

    • Anne Borrowdale says

      Thank you so much for the opportunity to post here. I’ve enjoyed seeing all the responses here and on Twitter.

  2. I write because I can. Yes, I really think it’s as simple as that. The original motivation was to write THAT particular story, and when it was done, stop writing. Only by the time I was finished writing The Distant Shore I had a publisher who badly wanted that story, and who also wanted me to write more. So… that’s what I did. That’s all. Right now I’m working on my 6th. book for Buddhapuss Ink LLC.

    • Anne Borrowdale says

      That’s great your writing is in such demand, Mariam!
      When you think about the whole process of writing a story, from the first idea through to when the book is finally published, what is the most satisfying time for you?

  3. Anne, I write to have an impact. I think writers should never concern themselves with somehow winning a competition. The only contest we need to enter is to create the best work possible. As for what’s holding me back, it’s mostly being too self-critical. Another word for it is perfectionism; its main side effect is procrastination. I suffer greatly from this.

    • Anne Borrowdale says

      Hi Louis, thank you for sharing that. It’s definitely good to have high standards, but like you say, it can make us too self-critical. It’s hard accepting “good enough” when deep inside we want to be perfect.

  4. I’m a number four, to create. If I don’t write I feel like part of me is missing.

  5. Steve Mathisen says

    I write because I have stories that demand to be written and keep nagging me to work on them. While I have serious doubts they will ever be considered great literature, they are my stories and I like them.

  6. I write because I speak so little that if I didn’t write, no one would ever hear my voice in any capacity.

    • Anne Borrowdale says

      That’s a great reason to write, Julie. Is it enough for you to see your words in print, or do you need to get a response from readers as well?

  7. I love what you said Steve. I write strongly for that reason too. I think I had to pick, I come the closest to #4, but it’s more of a discovery thing. I write because I want to know, to discover what I believe. I write to explore my truth, to see if it holds up in a rational story.

  8. For me, it’s the endless possibilities and the outlet of expression in the form of a story. Writing is even great aside from storytelling, it’s an organization of thoughts, feelings and ideas for others or even oneself. My own insecurities came to mind when I read the potential pitfalls in this post and spent several minutes typing my own down and was going to post them. After I was finished, I suddenly felt better, deleted it, and retyped this more positive message. Thank you everyone for your comments.

  9. There is one more reason why some people write that not listed here: To escape or, similarly, to cope. I started writing fiction when I was a teenager and young adult to escape some traumatic things that were happening in my life. Later, writing also became a way to cope with them. Only recently did my writing personality evolve to include writing to create and writing to overcome (as described here). My weaknesses include being overly self-critical and constantly revising; but I swear the need is there! ~chuckle~

  10. To have an impact would be my strongest motivator. At least that’s what it is right now. Not having a book published yet, I do want to be known and/or remember in this way. Once I’ve gotten past this first book though, I can see myself switching to the first one, to overcome. I have to admit that I love that feeling I get when I prove someone wrong.

  11. Anne Borrowdale says

    Good point about writing to escape or cope, diogeneia. And it’s fantastic to hear all the people who feel so strongly that they just have to write.
    I’d still be interested to know what it is about the writing process which gives you the biggest sense of satisfaction? What’s the highlight moment which would be shown in a film of your life?
    Thank you Glynis, your scene sounds like it would definitely show you saying “Hah, I proved them wrong!”

  12. I write to communicate ideas: I write fiction because I love storytelling and believe fiction speaks to the reader’s heart, while non-fiction requires brainwork to process it. My weakness is perfectionism, but it is also impatience! I am probably overcoming obstacles, deep down…and needing to be heard!

    Thanks Anne for a great post.

  13. I’m definitely a 4! I usually start with a scene and I continue to write to learn more about my characters. I’m not a plotter (tried it once – got half way through Chap 2 and was so bored I gave up!) so I suppose it’s true to say I write to find out what happens to all these people I’ve lived with for the last year or so that it’s taken me to write the novel.
    Why do I publish? that’s another story all together!

  14. A dozen years ago, when I started by writing fanfiction, it was definitely about the positive reader response, and yes, there was a “lowly laurels” aspect to it. My personal high came from the mere thrill of getting that positive review on fanfiction.net.

    Now, after almost a ten-year break, I’m writing again, this time an original story. I’d like to be able to say that it was all about creating. But if I’m honest, I would have to admit that one part of it is about proving something. Not to an editor, or a nasty reviewer, but to myself. I need to know if I’ve still got it. I want to see if I still have that creative spark. And I’m curious to find out if I can make a story work with characters that are 100% my own.

    • Thank you for sharing that, Andrew. I’m glad to hear you’re writing and unleashing your creativity again.

      Judith, a great point that what motivates us to write and what motivates us to publish aren’t always the same thing. Depends on how strongly we are writing just for ourselves or whether, like Mari, we have a strong desire to be heard by others as well.

      Best of luck to all of you with your writing.

  15. I write to create and to force myself to put out into the outer world, because as an introvert and reflective I would often rather keep my inner world to myself. So my obstacle is that once I have put words out there, they are never good enough. I think that I also need to be nudged, or nudge myself to extend myself and try something else. I have a tendency to get stuck in a form, eg a particular form of poem such as haiku, which I love. Not necessarily bad in itself, but … I was very pleased with myself when I began my blog (!) because I enjoyed it, and I was finally doing the something I had been thinking about for ages.

    • Anne Borrowdale says

      Very interesting comment, Hilary. It’s great how you give yourself new challenges and are willing to try new things. I do hope you’ll carry on creating, sharing and nudging yourself onwards.

  16. Rachel Pankuch says

    I write to create because I love the thought thtat I can turn my imagination into something others can enjoy. Right now only my friends and family read my stories and perhaps only they ever will. But I also want to make a difference and hope to one day be able to accomplish that with my writing.

    • Good luck, Rachel. You’ve made a great start by writing stories your friends and family enjoy, and making a difference in their lives. I hope you can go on and do this in the wider world too.

  17. When I first started writing, it was because I wanted to escape my life and create one in which I could control. Then I wanted to write one specific book so others who were also abused would know they were not alone. But once those were done something changed and I could no longer write fiction because I had found what I was looking for in my stories, so writing them was impossible, I couldn’t recreate what I have. But writing was still a part of me still a part of who I was and I couldn’t stop.Oh I still write fiction, but for me.

    However recently I was giving a great opportunity to write non fiction and share with others idea’s and concepts that only I can share and I do, thanks to a great publisher I can share who I am and give my experiences as only I can without compromising who I am and what I believe. For me its not really about recognition, or fame, ( although those things are nice) I write because that is who I am and for me to stop (which I have to see what would happen) would make my life a lot less fulfilled for writing is what I do and being a writer is who I am. ( for the record when I stopped those who knew me asked me to start writing again , I was not me when I didn’t and they did not like who I was when I wasn’t writing, ( secretly neither did I)

    • Thank you for sharing this, Debra. Like many of us, you write because it is such a deep part of who you are. I like that you also sound like you have a strong wish to help others by sharing your own experiences. Best wishes with your exciting new non-fiction writing opportunity.

  18. andre harris says

    It is a good question to ask why I write. It’s a lot more pertinent to ask why don’t you stop? The idea of stopping would make me feel like I ceased to exist or my life had no meaning. I can’t really say I write because I love it ( I do like it). I don’t especially have a love of words (although I love to read a great piece of writing). Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with writing, like a bad marriage. A lot of the time I hate writing. But mountain climbing stories focus on the struggle, not the pleasure or the view from the top. I love plots, I like constructing stories and I enjoy research, but the real reason I write is probably existential. I used to feel guilty about my negative attitude and think it was a sign that I wasn’t really a writer, but these feelings seem to be widespread even among great authors, so I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I often use the marriage analogy to writing. We really do end up having relationships with our stories – complete with all the problems!

    • Yes, “why don’t you stop?” is a very good question, Andre. I’ve been asking that using the parallel of someone retiring from a job, but I like the analogy of a bad marriage or relationship with our writing. The issue is the same: at what point do we weigh up the rewards and satisfactions against the struggles and the negativities, and say, “That’s it. I’m not going to keep putting myself through this”?

      Personally I’m not retiring or divorcing myself from writing any time soon but it was useful thinking it through – it was therapy for one or two of the problems in my relationship with writing. http://www.anneborrowdale.co.uk/writers-retire/

  19. hi Anne, thankyou for a nice concise roundup of reasons for writing.. i personaLLy identify as an impact writer and yes i have made the mistake of ‘going too far”. i wiLL try reLying on morenaturaL approach to spreading my message instead of aiming for the point too rarLy, i guess i couLd tease ’em a LittLe more.. thanks again,

  20. Thanks Martin, glad this helped you think about what kind of impact you make. All the best with your writing.


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