Why Writers Write

The question Why? on a cork notice board

As most authors will attest, writing can be a lonely and frustrating endeavor and financial rewards are uncertain. A rational person might conclude that putting pen to paper is an exercise in futility if viewed only from an economic lens. Fortunately for readers, the artist’s hunger to flex creative muscles or a desire to make a difference with words ensures a continued supply of books and articles. This reality does not necessarily mean that what gets published will sell well or reflects talent or both. It does however mean that lots of people want their proverbial voices heard and are willing to incur an opportunity cost to advance their dreams. The costs (in a “no free lunch” world) could be time not spent with family and friends or cash paid to finance a blog or self-publish a book. Yet there are more than 136,000 in the United States (and more overseas) who call themselves writers.

If we accept the premise that the world will always have individuals who write for a higher purpose, what about those who want their deliverables to generate a personal profit? Are they considered too pragmatic? Does writing with a specific book-buying audience in mind make their work more or less valuable in terms of a contribution to society? Does it matter? I have personally met dozens of people who want to both write and generate cash (lots of it) for their efforts.

According to famed bestselling author Stephen King, one should write for the joy of writing. I concur with the view that doing anything should be motivated by passion, whether it be writing, painting, starting a business or something else. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of being able to commit large blocks of time to write. Instead they may need to allocate their energies towards whatever it takes to garner a steady paycheck.

Another conundrum relates to whether one needs to be published in order to be happy. If true, an author has to recognize that, like anything else, selling books is a business. If there is little demand for a particular fiction voice or, in the case of non-fiction, a market for that topic, the author can busy himself for hours and never have his work see the light of day. I just completed a 100 page non-fiction book proposal that includes a detailed section about audience need because experts tell me that publishers need this information. This makes sense since a publisher (like any type of investor) wants a big upside and a limited downside.

Joe Bunting, author of “Let’s Write a Short Story!“, cites four reasons why people write – (a) to be fully alive (b) to make a name for one’s self (c) to change the world and (d) discover meaning. Other reasons abound. I think writing strengthens my communication skills as a public speaker and conversationalist. Whatever the motivation, understanding the “Why” can help a writer on those days when sitting in front of a computer or typewriter seems far from fun.