reasons you write header

Understanding—and Accepting—the Reasons You Write

reasons you writeWhat are the reasons you write?

This is a favorite question in writing forums, polls, and interviews. Sooner or later, all writers must answer this question, either for themselves or some curious second party.

It’s a simple enough question, but it can be surprisingly difficult to answer. Even after we’ve answered it, we sometimes find ourselves analyzing and justifying our answers.

Why You Write—Is There a “Right” Answer?

Off the top of my head, I jotted a list of possible answer to this question. We might write to:

1. Make a mark/leave a legacy.

2. Stroke our egos.

3. Proselytize others to a specific viewpoint.

4. Connect with others.

5. Explore and experience life.

6. Feed aesthetic appreciation.

7. Earn money.

8. Satisfy a compulsion (i.e., we can’t not write).

9. Create.

10. Gain catharsis.

11. Express ourselves.

Are any of these answers good reasons to write? Are all of them good answers?

In a word: yes.

Figuring Out the Reasons You Write

I’m willing to bet almost every single one of those answers is true of you, and every other author, to one extent or another.

If you’ve ever struggled to justify your writing to the rest of the world—or even to yourself—you might find it helpful to study the above list and organize the reasons in the order that best reflects your own motivations. Perhaps Exploring and Experiencing Life is your number one reason, while Leaving a Legacy is at the bottom. Identifying your reasons for writing can not only help you justify their value, it can also help you focus your writing so you can best fulfill those reasons.

On the other hand, you may have read the list and nodded your head at the pertinence of the reasons—without feeling as if any of them summed up your reasons for writing. Maybe your reason isn’t in that list. Maybe your reasons change from story to story, or even day to day. Maybe you know you have a reason, but you can’t put it into words. Maybe you don’t care what the reason is. Is that okay too?

In another word: definitely.

The always inspiring Jeff VanderMeer made a spot-on observation in Booklife:

Why you do something doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of what you do…. the animating impulse behind our need to write often eludes us… in a sense we not only make up stories, we make up stories about why we write.

At the end of the day, what’s important isn’t so much understanding the reasons you write as is accepting that you don’t always need an explicit reason. You’re a writer. You write. And that is enough.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are the top reasons you write? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I feel that writing is such a complex progress on it’s own that a person can’t just have one reason for writing. For me it’s a combination of almost every point on your list–there’s a hierarchy but, like you said, our reasons for doing something cannot be static, if they were I think most of would stop after a while. Good post, got me thinking.

  2. One quote I like says something like “I write for the same reasons I breathe–if I didn’t, I would die.”

  3. Making money and ego-stroking are in there but, cheesy as it may read, my #1 reason for writing is it feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.

  4. I’d say I write because I have an interesting story to tell that is surprising and funny. Basically the same reason I would tell a friend something.

    Moody Writing

  5. @Scribbler: Writing is complex. If we want to really could simplify it, we could say, “writing is life.” And, paradoxically, what’s more complex than that?

    @Galadriel: I’ve never heard that one before. Love it. Do you happen to know who said it?

    @Rob: Not cheesy at all. That is the most important reason any of us can write. I would class it under the “compulsion” heading.

    @Mooderino: Perhaps also the compulsion heading, but maybe under a less powerful impetus? Simple pleasure, perhaps? Which is also a perfectly good reason.

  6. I write because my imagination is constantly on the go and if I didn’t unleash it then I would probably go mad!

    To make money isn’t my number 1 reason for writing but if someone wants to give me money for it I won’t say no! 😉

  7. Money is absolutely a legit reason. Writers have to eat too, after all. But I always encourage writers to look beyond money as their main reason to write. Money isn’t always a constant. Satisfaction can be.

  8. I write because it’s who I am. It’s how I express myself and it’s something I want to do. If I can turn it into a paying job, wonderful! But I will always create, no matter what.

  9. I write because I can’t stop. It always comes back to me, no matter how long I go without writing or try to stop, eventually I start again.

  10. Because I love it. 🙂

    I mean, yeah, the other stuff about hoping to impact people and express myself and create something are true, too, but even if no one ever read what I wrote I would still write.

  11. @Miss Cole: That’s the attitude I like to see in authors. It presents a win-win situation. If you don’t make a million dollars, you’re still happy. If you do make a million dollars, well, can’t complain there either!

    @Michelle: I’ve never tried *not* to write. It would be an interesting experiment. I would probably end up winning a Guinness Book of World Records award for crankiness.

    @Heidi: That’s the way it should be, IMO. If we’re not writing first and foremost for ourselves, we’re probably not producing stories from a deep and honest core.

  12. at first i wrote to see if i could, then it was about creating, then about leaving a legacy. now it’s more about satisfying a compulsion, but most of those reasons play into it. it would be hard for me to separate them out.

  13. I was lured into the prospect of writing as a kid, when I learned how much money Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could have made by creating Superman if creators had the legal clout that corporations have.

    I still think money is at the forefront of my motivations, though (hah!) I make little to nothing from my writing.

    But if I’m going to work hard at something (and everything requires hard work), then I’d rather do something that allows me to express myself, connect with others, and make a fool, er, make a mark for myself. 🙂

  14. @Michelle: Sounds like you’ve visited all the reasons! I am totally on board with the idea that all of these reasons (and probably more besides) factor into *the* reason.

    @Greg: I’ve alway said that a passion is something you not only would do for free, but would indeed pay to do. One way or another, most writers end up doing that at some point in their pursuit of writing.

  15. I think my head would explode if I didn’t release some of the words in it occasionally. Sleeping is impossible when the word pressure becomes too much, but why it happens at 2 AM is beyond me.

  16. Avoiding cranial explosions is always a good reason!

  17. Because I’m better at it than brain surgery, and it’s just slightly less stressful than being a bomb squad technician.

    On a serious note: I’ve been so frustrated with writing, I swore I would quit for good. I tried, but I can’t. It calls to me.

  18. That’s another symptom of passion: you can’t give it up, even when you want to.

  19. I write because writing is what I am meant to do.

    I’ve tried many things in addition to writing . . writing is my only constant.

  20. Great list! My number one reason has changed from wanting to be acknowledged to being in God’s will and doing whatever it is my writing is supposed to do. Takes a lot of the pressure and focus off of me. :O)

  21. @CM: Writing is so many different things to so many different people – and, yet, it’s always the same thing too.

    @Diane: Definitely. At first glance, writing can be seen as a very selfish pursuit, but when we know we’re pursuing it in surrender to God’s will, it takes on a whole ‘nother aspect.

  22. I’ve spent most of my life entertaining myself by making up stories, and I guess writing is a way to bring those imaginings a step closer to reality – to keep the best from fading away from my memory.

    I think what would please me the most is to know someone enjoyed reading my work as much as I enjoyed creating it. On the other hand, the hard work that goes into it would make me feel I’d earned every cent of money it might make. 🙂

  23. That’s why I started writing too. I had no intentions of becoming an author. I just wanted to write down my stories so I wouldn’t forget them.

  24. Good question. I write to leave my mark and to tell the stories of women in history that few people have ever heard of.

    And I’d really like to have my books in the Library of Congress one day! 🙂

  25. I write because I love the riches and the easy path to success. Haha.

  26. @Stephanie: Hey, I’ll second the Library of Congress bid!

    @M: Wow. How eerie. Me too. :p

  27. Anonymous says

    I write because without it I have no voice. I have selective muteism, which basically means that I a intensely shy. Writing is my only way of being able to get my ideas out there. It’s a miserable world without words, and writing remedies that.
    I guess that would fall under a lot of the headings at the same time.

  28. What you say reminds me of a quote by Raija Oranen: “I write to become understood. After I had published my first novel many people started ethusiaticly commenting it. I had tried to talk about the same things in normal conversation, but my message hadn’t gone through. Now I found a channel for it.”

  29. Gabrielle says

    Why do I write? Funny…I don’t know that I’ve thought about it that much! I write becomes sometimes there is something I just NEED to get out. (And Gullible – I’m so glad I’m not the only one who needs to write at 2am…). I write because I like to explore places and people. I’ve always had an overactive imagination. I’m always exploring inside my head, and I enjoy the craft of putting that exploring onto paper.

  30. I ask myself this question too, particularly: WHY the incessant desire to write? Where does all that caring come from, and why even care? Whenever I am on a tough block, when the words & thoughts don’t fizzle with the imagery, these questions become even more haunting. Sometimes, I think it stems from my childhood desire of wanting to make my family proud…(perhaps to make-up for some dysfunctional roots?)
    Other times, I feel it is because I’d like to leave behind a legacy — something to outlast my lifetime…. and to build my life on, especially now that I am past the corporate world.
    Certainly, my writing is not for fortune, as it might be for an understanding of Myself.

  31. @Gabrielle: Exploring people and places has always been high on my list of reasons. I love that my life can be so much more than just what I’m able to personally live. The possibilities are endless!

    @Pathfinder: “An understanding of self” – that plays a part for the vast majority of artists. It’s definitely part of the complex tangle of reasons I write.

  32. I’ve found that writing keeps me in the real world. As a teenager I used to get so wrapped in these story worlds in my head I don’t think I knew what reality was.
    Since I started writing them down, I can see the world more clearly and can experience a whole lot more to write about.

  33. I write because I needed a job, and then I started to find joy in writing. There’s no reason for me to write, I just enjoy it now.

  34. @JM: Writers often talk about how they have to write down the “voices” to keep from going crazy. More truth to that than not!

    @Tammi: Enjoyment is a perfectly good reason in my book!

  35. I write because I find joy in it. I believe it’s a calling.

  36. I have no idea why I write. There just was this story in my head…

  37. @Loree: Writing brings a sense of joy that’s different from any other life experience. It’s special stuff, and I, for one, feel so blessed to be able to take part in it.

    @Mariam: Great how that works out, isn’t it? 🙂

  38. Not too long ago I answered this question in less than 140 characters on Twitter using the #whyiwrite hashtag. I think it’s my best answer so far, short and to the point 😉

    I write because there’s nothing else to better keep me on the right track of sanity – or prove the lack thereof all at once.

  39. Love it! Writing really is sanity and insanity all bundled up together. Thanks for today’s chuckle!

  40. The number one factor is exploring different horizons in my life. The first time I officially decided to be a writer was when I was reading a novel. In which the protagonist was a writer (Those days I was always bamming my head over deciding which profession I will pursue after growing up)
    In that novel, there was a scene in which a girl asks him about what he do and he answered that he write novels. The girl replied “That means you do everything. If your character is a doctor, you are a doctor. If he is an engineer, you are an engineer”
    That small dialogue in that novel (The novel itself I forgot) is what made me make my final decision. No one committed life, do whatever you want to do. And if you get bored by it, change and do another thing. That is my foremost reason to write.
    Well money and legacy factor are there too 🙂

  41. Ken Farmer says

    I write because I enjoy entertaining people. Forty-five years in front of a camera and on stage probably has something to do with it. It’s all about stimulating the emotional response of the reader. I want them to see, hear, feel, taste and smell what I do as I write…Cry, laugh, get angry, experience suspense. Take them to another place and when they finish…I want them to say, “Wow, that was a hellova ride.”

  42. Tony Delgado says

    I write because I believe that I have a certain knack for it. I also believe that a gift unused is a gift frittered away.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. I think there’s always a part of us that recognizes those unused gifts–and suffers because of them.


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