I see this prompt arise at least once a season in every writing forum:
Why do you write?
Answers range from “I’m not good at anything else” to “I want to change the world” and everything in between. My favorite answers are the bold and personal, like “I have to get this story out of me” and “Younger me needs to read this.”
I’ve always written, though I’ve bounced between formats since I was young. The need to write has always been a driving force, an uncontrollable urge to explain my thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
When I was a child, the answer was: “I exist!” I’m not heard unless I’m read. I wrote poetry, songs, short stories, essays, and letters to celebrities asking them to adopt me.
Words plunked slowly, repetitively, as I reached for them. I hated everything I wrote and threw it all away.
As a teen, it became: “Do I exist?” I’m not real unless I prove it. I wrote songs and poetry on anything that would accept ink; I wrote letters to my parents when they were too emotional to discuss our different opinions.
Words spit out hot and fast, arriving like lightning and exploding from me. I kept them raw, untouched.
In college, my reason turned into: “I learned something!” My thoughts are meaningless unless others can follow them. I still wrote songs and poetry, but my focus was on proving the worth of my opinions through source materials.
Words often felt like nonsense—chicken scratch, messy—until they were turned in for another brain to judge.
Abuse shifted something inside me, twisting my writing and my mind: “I’m in here.” I wrote because I needed to feel something different. Instead of using words to translate “me,” I needed to use them for escape. I wrote because “Life still has meaning,” and I was determined to connect with memories of joy, safety, and freedom I didn’t feel.
When I wrote songs and poetry, I flung them out to my small audience like they were the last shards of my soul, while I jealously guarded my daily journals and first manuscript, since these were the only safe spaces I had left.
Words were treasures, scribbled in secret.
After I escaped the abuse, why I wrote changed again: “I survived!” I wrote to make up for lost time, to reclaim my identity, to rediscover the threads of myself that I’d forgotten.
Songs no longer came to my mind fully-formed, but verses squatted into place like unthawed meat. Finishing my manuscript became a sacred duty, symbolizing all I had sacrificed of myself just to survive.
Writing turned into therapy, my personal method of maintaining sanity and claiming the healing I desperately needed.
Once one manuscript became two, and writing became less solitary and experimental, I knew I was no longer writing to fill a hole that had always been inside me; instead I was writing to explore the dimensions of that hole, to translate what growth and change meant to me through stories.
Words trickled like blood from a scratched-open wound, and every day I’d force myself to expose the wound fresh.
Now that two manuscripts have become three, with several more abandoned or trunked, or plotted and waiting their turn, why do I write?
All the answers I’ve ever had for this question are still present, etched by instinct and habit into my daily routine. I now seek to be invisible behind my characters, and words flow only when I draft, each line waiting for the inevitable slash and burn of my editing phases that will shape them into something else. Revising and editing consume far more creative time than drafting new words, and writing is no longer about me alone. Writing has become my craft quest, a journey that never ends.
When I see the “Why do you write?” question now, I no longer have one single, easy answer except: “I write to improve my writing.” I no longer have to wait for lightning to strike to write, because I’ve built a pattern that is simply “what I do,” so I’m protected from the whims of inspiration by sheer refusal to stop.
Reasons change as life changes us. Our “why” can affect what we write as well as how it feels doing it. It’s always one word after another, but that process can be tedious or exhilarating depending on mindset. Embracing your reasons, even just your “right now” reasons, can drastically alter how flow operates.
For whatever reason you write, I think it’s good practice to stay open to such changes, to allow your art to mean different things at different times, accepting that what feels good today may be excruciating tomorrow but no less important to do.
Keep at it, writers!
I’d love to hear what your first reason to write was and how that’s changed for you since. Please share in the comments if you’re willing! Also, for more writing tips or musings, check out #authortoolboxbloghop or search the hashtag on Twitter. Look for new posts by the third Wednesday of each month!