Writers love to write. We love the idea of writing, the act of writing, and talking about writing. We love the instruments of writing – pens, notebooks, software, clickety-clackety keyboards. We love the history and ephemera of writing – pithy quotes from beloved authors, old-fashioned typewriters, and musty smelling books that stand as testament to the labors of writers who have gone before us. We love the process of writing, the dance with the muse, putting all the pieces together.
But, why do we write?
This question keeps popping into my head as I sit in my writing class. Even as I savor the atmosphere and drink in delicious new ideas and insights, a small voice in the back of my head keeps asking, “Why?”
Perhaps this voice is speaking up on behalf of resistance. Though I am excited to be learning new things about the writing craft, this new knowledge is also daunting. It reveals to me the enormity of what I do not know – everything that sits below the waterline, hiding beneath the tip of the iceberg on which I perch with my pen and notebook. So, the little voice asks, “Why?” It whispers that I shouldn’t expend so much energy without knowing why I’m making such an effort – all those hours, all that study, all the work of getting it wrong, and wrong, and wrong, and finally somewhat right.
And I don’t have a ready answer.
Simon Sinek, in his now famous TEDx talk preaches that you must start with the why. According to his “golden circle,” “why” is at the center, followed by concentric rings of “how” and “what.” But, we writers often get caught up in the how (our craft) and the what (our book) and lose sight of our why – our purpose. Sinek says of purpose, “… a true sense of purpose is deeply emotional, it serves as a compass to guide us to act in a way completely consistent with our values and beliefs. Purpose does not need to involve calculations or numbers. Purpose is about the quality of life. Purpose is human, not economic.” He is usually talking in the context of business, but the same can apply to your writing. What is your deeply emotional “why?” What serves as your compass? How do your values and beliefs weave themselves into the fabric of your stories?
When you write with purpose, you are a better writer.
I do many kinds of writing. I journal, blog, write marketing copy, and am starting to get more serious about my fiction practice. The work I am most proud of is the work that is driven by a purpose. I have written letters to the editor that I hold more dear than a forty-page ebook or a branding framework that took three months to develop. I wrote letters to the editor because I was on a mission for one thing or another. I was trying to take a stand, make something happen. I cared, deeply, about the outcome.
Do you care about the outcome of your writing? Do you even know what you want it to be?
Over on my business blog, I recently wrote a post called The real secret of doing what you love. I confessed that I don’t love my work. It’s true. I don’t. But, I do love the people I help through my work, and I love the outcome of our partnership. I get excited about the purpose my work serves. My friend and colleague Craig McBreen also recently wrote about this in his post, Passion ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. He also believes that having a purpose or a mission is more important than having passion.
You know you have a passion for writing, but what’s your purpose for writing?
Think about your favorite fictional characters. They have amazing stories because they have a great sense of purpose or a mission to fulfill. Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Katniss in The Hunger Games, Harry Potter … they all have a reason – a “why” – behind what they do. The drive of that why, that purpose, creates the conflict that makes a good story.
Is there conflict in your life story?
What dragon are you fighting? What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to rescue?
Writing is not easy work. If you are going to embark on this journey, pen in hand, you need something that will keep you going far along the road. You need something that will push you forward when you hit rock bottom, inspire you when you feel all is lost, pull you up when you just want to sink down and cry. You need a purpose – a why.
You have a deep, impassioned reason behind your desire to write. Find it.
- Ask yourself “why?” over and over again like a five year-old child. Be persistent. Dig for the real answer.
- Write the words “I believe…” on a piece of paper and then finish the sentence. Repeat the process until you hit on something that stops you in your tracks.
- Look at your heroes. What do they stand for? What are their whys?
- Read your own stories. What themes come up again and again?
- Think back to when you began writing. What inspired you to pick up the pen the first time?
Finding your why will change your writing. When you know why you write, you’ll know what to write and you’ll know how you want to write it. You’ll bring more of yourself to the page, so you’re writing will be more alive. You will inject your passion with purpose – and that, my friends, is an unstoppable combination.
So, why do you write?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.