Why Do You Write?

Note: This post was originally scheduled for October 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post A LOT so it’s up to date.

Hi Folks,

In my years of dealing with other writers, I’ve heard a few clichéd thoughts. In every case, the clichés are caused by the same old myths we’ve all been taught and bought into to one degree or another.

One of the more prevalent myths is that writing for money somehow taints the pure art of writing.

The truly hilarious kicker here is that although writing fiction is as much a pure art as painting or sculpting, most would-be writers don’t present their pure art. (Especially those in Group Three below, but don’t skip down.)

They edit and wheedle and whittle away until what was originally pure looks just like they believe it “should” look, which is like everyone else’s stuff.

It’s extremely difficult to be “special, just like everyone else.” 🙂

Okay, but this post is about the nonsense that writing for money is not a good thing. I’ll deal with the art side of this another time.

“Oh, I Don’t Write for Money,” (he said, one forearm draped dramatically over his forehead as a glass of wine and a cheese stick balanced precariously in his other hand.)

First, a disclaimer — I am aware there are folks out there who are not writers and don’t care to be. That’s fine. What follows is about those who are or claim to be writers.

Over all the years when I was goofy enough to believe I was making a difference presenting in writers’ conferences and sitting on panels (there’s a waste of time you’ll never get back) in genre conventions, I must have heard it at least a thousand times: “Oh, I’m not into writing for money.”

And every single time, for me, that begged the question, “Then why in the world are you here?” I mean seriously, if you don’t write for money, why are you spending money on the latest conference, convention, or seminar?

Okay, some folks love learning strictly for the sake of learning. Got it.

But what about the other five or six out of a bajillion?

Now don’t get angry. Coming from a (former) writing instructor, “Why do you write?” is a completely valid question. But really, it’s strictly rhetorical.

The fact is, writers who say they don’t write for money belong in one of four groups:

Group One consists of hobby writers.

They really don’t write for money. They also don’t invest much of their own time and money in learning how to write. When they do invest money in their writing, it’s for a good and specific reason.

These are the ones the other family members turn to when someone has to write a eulogy. Perhaps they write to leave a legacy—perhaps a memoir or a family history—so descendants will have a record.

Perhaps they pay a proofreader or copyeditor to clean up the writing a bit, and they might even attend a writing workshop or two. That’s perfectly understandable. Absolutely nothing wrong with being a hobby writer.

Group Two are the same folks, but they harbor a secret desire to be professional writers.

They really don’t write for money either. And they hedge their bets by not investing much of their own time and money in learning how to write. If they don’t learn, they have no reason to write seriously and they will never risk failure.

However, they’re so overcome by the fear of failure that they will never seriously consider themselves writers, nor expect others to consider them writers.

That’s okay too if they can’t overcome the fear, but I hope they find something they love to do and do that instead.

Group Three consists of those who are not writers, will never be writers, and know it. They are who this topic is really all about.

They say that they don’t write for money in a tone that indicates they’re bragging. They believe themselves above scrabbling for the filthy lucre, and generally — if they actually write at all — they’re in pursuit of writing The Great American Novel.

They have an elevated calling, you see, and they’re above the whole sordid mess in which we mere mortals are entangled.

However, for some reason they believe others see them as writers (Pssst! No, we don’t.) and they attach some elevated importance to that as well. They would fit right into the Brit TV show Keeping Up Appearances, and any one of them could play the role of Hyacinth. And they’re precisely as annoying.

Those in this group spend sometimes vast amounts of money on appearing to be a writer. But learning and honing the craft doesn’t matter. Appearance — what others believe about them — is everything.

Shrug. Stretch. Yawn. Okay. Whatever.

Those in Group Four are writers, or at least aspirants who have a real shot at being writers.

Those say (usually humbly) that they don’t write for money either. But they invest time and money wisely in learning and honing the craft. (Like those in Group Two, they’re also hedging their bets, but only out of fear of rejection.) We can lump them in with those in Group Five.

Everyone else belongs in Group Five. They are writers. They never utter “I don’t write for money” unless they’re being sarcastic.

These folks have learned what those in Group Three will never learn: If you want to write, write. It’s that simple.

Neither do they think nonstop of all the money they’re going to make. That isn’t what it’s about. They just write.

As one personal example, I seriously doubt I’ll ever make a solid living with my writing. But I also seriously expect my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will rake in cash by the barrel load. And that’s fine. But I get all the fun of telling the stories and putting them out there. (grin)

Let’s pause here for a moment so you can do a quick self-assessment if you want to. Nobody’s judging. Whether and why you belong in any of the first four groups is strictly up to you to decide.

Okay, all done?

Good. Now, here’s what you do.

If you belong in Group One, Two or Three, you can go home now.

Stop reading this and go find something fun to do.

Why? Because I see no reason to take you seriously, or at all, as a writer. And frankly, if you’re in Group One or Two, you don’t expect me to. In fact, you’re probably laughing along with the rest of us.

If you’re in Group Three — well, sorry.

I realize you expect the rest of us to not only realize you’re a writer but admire your tenacity, etc. Here you go. Let’s see if I can hit the high spots:

  • You expect the rest of us to grovel and beg for an autographed copy of your recent release.
  • You authored your book (but not for filthy lucre) and are selling for some exorbitant amount because it’s Just That Good.
  • Oh, and because you paid some subsidy publisher a few thousand dollars to like it enough to publish it.

That about right?

You’re also probably madder than eight wildcats in an oil drum right now. But really, just chill and go find something you actually enjoy doing. Seriously.

Now, if you’re in Group Four or Five (Bonnie), hey, this entire post celebrates you. I’m pulling for you, I’m proud of you and I’m glad you’re one of us.

Keep learning, keep writing, and keep making wise investments in your education.

But don’t tell people you aren’t writing for money. Just keep having fun making stuff up.

‘Til next time, happy writing (or whatever you most enjoy doing).

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

4 thoughts on “Why Do You Write?

  1. Glad someone else finds Hyacinth annoying. Now ‘As Time Goes By’…that’s a whole nother thing. Thanks for reproducing your “Why Do You Write” piece. I’m still tracking the numbers on this latest novel. Gives me a sense of accomplishment and sometimes am amazed when I see when I last produced significant numbers of words ready to print; I let life interfere too often. I’ve learned so much from you. I probably have to circle back a bit more than some writers as I am still learning how to say what I say in proper order…ie events in sequence of how they happened. (So I use cut and paste a bit more than most, I guess)But I imagine each of us is a little unique in our process. WITD was a blessing to me. I’m not a cat, much less 8 wildcats in an oil barrel (love your imagery) but occasionally I feel like purring when I write…it feels that good and the fact that we can leave our intellectual property to a grandchild makes it work better for me too. Thanks Harvey, so looking forward to tomorrow.

  2. I think there a lot of people who think they want to be a writer and fit into the hobby category, but treat it like a lottery. They see a best selling book and think it’s garbage, so they think they can write a book that becomes a best seller so they can quit the day job and not work again. Mind you, not write again either.

    But I’ve also found a lot of writers aren’t honest even with themselves in what they want. Even when I started writing when I was eight, I loved doing it so much that I wanted to write full time. I’m hoping one day that will be a possibility, because I can do something I want to do, not what I have to do.

    • More and more I think “best-seller” is the result of marketing, not skill as a writer. Kind’a makes me wanna go back to school and get a degree in marketing.

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