There are reasons to write that have to do with our desires to matter.
We may dream of hitting the bestseller lists, or winning literary awards, or gaining the respect of critics (maybe even our mother or the in-laws!)
Sometimes we want to self-publish and make enough money to provide for our families.
We want to join in the conversation that began for many of us as a child when we first read and fell in love with books, and first realized that there was an intelligence creating them for us: the mysterious Writer on the other side of the page.
And there are reasons to write that have to do with our stories.
Maybe someone out there needs to hear your story in order to feel fully seen and understood.
Your poem could help someone feel less alone in the world.
Your novel could reach across the chasm of human misunderstanding and soften a hardened heart.
Your memoir could make it easier (or even possible) for another person to face a difficult day, or run of days.
Some stories provide comfort during the darker moments of our lives. Some stories provide escape into a fantasy world that rewards our innate sense of justice.
Some stories are just so damn much fun we can’t resist them!
All stories help us understand more about the world and other people than we did before. It’s why we have been telling them to each other since the dawn of time.
“Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” — Toni Morrison
Maybe your book, or just a single poem, will change someone.
And maybe it's so innate to who we are as human beings that we just can't help ourselves.
There are a lot of good reasons to write.
But I think that the most valuable reasons for writing — the reasons that will keep us going in the face of the long hours and inevitable rejection — are the ones that have to do with who we are becoming as we write.
“. . . Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously!”– Kurt Vonnegut
Take Vonnegut’s advice and write to find out what’s inside you, what is calling out to be expressed. Write to expand your understanding of who you are, to make your soul grow.
For every poem I’ve published, there’s another 2 or 3 I wrote just for me, just to understand what I was thinking or feeling about something in my life or the world around me. (And occasionally I’ve made the mistake of trying to publish those, misunderstanding their purpose.)
Write because the world needs people who have come alive.
I’m a better person when I’m writing. I’m more reflective and less judgemental, and I am more able to give to the rest of the world when I’ve had those 30 or 40 minutes to dedicate to my writing.
When I was a single parent, I was more patient when I was writing. Writing was my oxygen mask.
When I write, I feel fully myself, fully alive.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman
Some of us come to writing later in life — actually, I think we come to publishing later and have been writing for a long time. It’s not that we write to stay young, we write because we ARE young. (Most humans are perpetually young inside.)
We write because we’re curious and we love the world.
“People like you and me never grow old. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.” — Albert Einstein
More reasons to write.
From time to time, I will hear a writer say that they feel selfish for focusing on writing when their kids (or their aging parents, or both) need them.
And if their loved ones need so much from them in terms of care and attention, then shouldn’t they give them all their time and attention? How dare they steal an hour or more each week for their own dreams and creative desires?
If I say it this way — HOW VERY DARE YOU — you can perhaps hear the logic break down…but perhaps not.
It is an insidious and dangerous idea that writing is a selfish act unless it results in cash or fame.
So here’s a question for you: what if all your writing ever does for you is to feel good while you’re doing it? So what? Are you the only person on the planet who is not allowed to enjoy her life?
But what if it goes beyond that? What if your writing is a gift to the others in your life?
Because your kids need to see their mother working towards her dreams. (It gives them permission to work for their dreams as well.)
Because your parents love you and want you to be happy. (Your happiness makes them happy too.)
But even if that were not true, what if writing is actually more important than that?
Because you’re not on this planet solely to care for other people, pay your bills and die. You are a human being with hopes and creative dreams and it’s okay for you to want to write.
When I think about being “resilient” as a writer, these are some of the reasons for writing that come immediately to mind.
Sure, some of us may be writing for glory, or for cash. But a lot of us are writing for many other reasons and we want to be writing for the rest of our lives.
Repeat after me:
It’s okay for me to want to write. I give myself permission to write and enjoy it just because I can.
Why are YOU writing?