Recently, I had the delightful experience of being on the podcast What People Do with the ever wonderful Brendan Howard (listen to my episode!). We talked about writing and all the different forms of it and some of the questions he asked me got me thinking…why do I write, exactly?
Aside from the fact that I’ve committed myself to a blog and if I don’t pound something out on a semi-regular basis, I am filled with a deep sense of shame.
It’s hard to pinpoint. I don’t know that there are concrete reasons. It essentially boils down to: I like doing it, I think I’m pretty good at it, and it’s really satisfying to get something down.
But it’s not like I have to write. I’ve gone through long stretches where I haven’t written much, if at all, and it didn’t make my life way worse. It definitely left a small hole and made me question my identity as a writer a bit, but I didn’t have a full out crisis.
If I suddenly decided to stop writing forever, I don’t think it’d hurt anyone. There isn’t a crowd out there clamoring for me to produce content. (At least, I don’t think so. Are you clamoring for me to produce content?)
But there’s got to be something. I mean, I keep doing it. And often simply for personal fulfillment. I amuse myself with my stupid jokes and that’s usually enough for me.
Still, I think it’s a useful exercise to try to pinpoints the whys behind my need to be creative. So here’s an attempt at that.
I love to read
This is sort of a basic observation, but most authors are avid readers. I have only ever met one aspiring writer who told me they didn’t read, and when he told me that I immediately gave him reading assignments. (For context, I was tutoring him and he asked for advice on how to be a better writer. I won’t randomly assault you in the street if you don’t read.)
For one, reading helps you figure out what other writers do that you really dig. It helps you figure out writing tactics you don’t like. It helps you become versed in tropes, which teaches you the appropriate times to break or upend those tropes or really lean into them. Reading is incredible for a lot of reasons, and I wholeheartedly embrace the advice that if you want to get better at writing, you should probably read more.
Also, it makes sense to me that if you love to read, then you would want to craft some kind of written text that other people will love to read. Readers love to share with other readers.
I like making other people happy
I don’t know if love languages are a bad thing to reference, so sorry if they are, but I’ll be damned if my love language isn’t acts of service. When people are in a bad way, my mind immediately goes to what I can do for them. What can I give or provide that will make them feel better? Usually the answer to that question is baking them cookies. But in my younger days, I used to write friends short stories for their birthdays and other holidays (they would give me a prompt and away I went.)
Last year, right when lockdown was looming imminently, I started a newsletter where I sent out a chapter of the book I was writing every day. This was partially to force me to stay on top of my writing, but it also came from a place of trying to give people something comforting to expect in their inbox each day.
When someone does read what I write and report back that they loved it or it made them happy, I’m so glad that it touched them in some way. You give me feedback that you like my writing, and I’ll go out of my way to make more writing happen for you.
It gives me a sense of purpose
Life is wild and the world is a mess. I’m constantly running around trying to get everything done and falling shorter than I’d like. Not to mention that I have yet to land that mythical job that magically fulfills everything I need in life. (Spoiler alert: These jobs don’t exist. Even the really good ones.)
Writing gives me a purpose. I might not be changing the world, but this is something I can do for myself. It’s a way I can make something that I think matters. I value words more highly than just about anything. So writing helps me practice what I value, and it gives me something meaningful to do. And to tell others that I do something meaningful.
I’m becoming a skilled expert
If you have read more than one article on my blog, you already know that I struggle with perfectionism. But also, strangely enough, writing has never been something I’ve felt the need to be immediately perfect at. I wrote prolifically throughout middle school and it is all absolute drivel that just rips off other stuff I liked. But that never stopped me or disheartened me. I loved doing it!
I’m now good enough that reading stuff I’ve recently written usually doesn’t (usually) make me cringe, and it’s nice to know that the more I do it, the better I get. That I’ve effectively “honed my craft” for enough years that I’m something of an expert. That I could, maybe…teach other people lessons I’ve learned? I have been paid professionally to write. Like, on some level, I’m a professional writer.
That’s kind of weird, but it’s also cool. At least I’m good at one of my hobbies, by god! (My other hobby being running, which I am terrible at.)
It’s fun to see the fruits of your labor
Finishing a project just feels good. Posting an article, finishing a book, capping off that play. It’s amazing to be done and then to go back and read what you’ve written. You have proof that you did a thing! That is so cool. When I go on a long run, I’m sore, but I have no physical document that shows that effort I made.
This is a great side benefit. And sometimes when I go back and read something I wrote awhile ago, when some of the details have gotten fuzzy, I’ll come across a clever line that actually makes me laugh out loud. It might be super embarrassing to admit that I can make myself laugh out loud with my writing, but I think that’s kind of neat!
I don’t know that I’ve really dug all the way down to the heart of why I do this writing thing, but I think these are all pretty good reasons for why I keep doing it. Why I keep setting myself goals and starting books that nobody but me might ever read.
Really, if nothing else, I hope you take away that it’s good to pursue things you like to do that make you feel good. And it’s okay if those things don’t make you money. It’s okay if you just do something because you like it and you want to do it. Don’t let weird productivity/hustle culture steal your joy.
And if you feel so inclined, let me know what you love to do. I bet you’re great at it.