Guest post by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, the author of THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET: An Oona Crate Mystery.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it helpful to take a moment to sort of realign myself with my deeper reasons for wanting to tell a story. Let’s face it, writing is hard work. It is demanding, and challenging, sometimes frustrating, and at other times exhilarating. So I ask the question: what is it that calls us to the keyboard or the pen and paper time and time again?
I can’t answer that for anyone else, but I do know that sometimes our core reason for writing can get a bit obscured by all of the traps of “succeeding.” Whether it’s seeking an agent, landing a publishing deal, promoting and selling a book, or whatever place we writers are at in our careers, I feel that it’s important to take a moment every so often to remind ourselves what we are doing all of this for. Why this, of all of the thousands of other activities available? And by the way, if your answer is “to get a six-figure advance on a publishing contract,” that’s fine, and perhaps true on one level, but I’m going to challenge you a bit and ask you to look a little deeper. Seems to me that there are FAR easier ways to make money than writing.
No doubt the answer you find will be answers (plural). There is certainly more than one thing that motivates us to do anything—we are complex human beings after all, and the answer is never quite so simple. But in simply asking the question, you might be surprised to discover that one or two reasons may stand out above the rest—answers that resonate TRUTH like a neon sign. Maybe those motivations have changed over time and are different from when you inked your first story, and then again, maybe not. It’s interesting to explore.
The reason I bring it up is because those core truths that speak to us—or perhaps more aptly, speak through us—can be the sweetest, most inspiring motivators in our lives. And all of the other compulsions and pressures to be successful can often obscure even the most core motivations.
Don’t get me wrong; the drive to succeed is a fine thing, and perhaps even necessary to achieve our eventual goals…just so long as it does not obscure our basic truths.
Presently, I am reminded that one of my own personal motivations for writing is, on one level, a desire to uniquely do for others what has been done for me by other authors. And on an even more fundamental level, it is to connect—not only with my readers, but also with that mysterious source within where the stories themselves seem to come from. To experience the magic firsthand!
What’s your motivation?
Adam Pepper says
I ask myself this question a lot. I'm not making a living at it, so I can't really call it a career. But it's not a hobby. I have hobbies like skiing and poker that I do strictly for enjoyment and I have no higher aspirations in them. So, the only answer is it's a passion and a compulsion. I love it. I hate it. And I have no intention of giving it up. That's what works for me.
Mr. D says
I just like to write!
I write to communicate. I am extremely shy, so writing gives me the chance to craft words and images that reach people emotionally, in a way that I'm not able to in most conversations. It is also a way to connect to my own thoughts and feelings.
M.R. Merrick says
I suffer from job ADD. In which, I start a new job, and within 18 months (tops) I'm bored.
Writing creates a constant challenge for me, which I've recently discovered I need. It's something I always look forward to sitting down to do, and it's different every time. Sure, working on the same story for 8 months can make you bite your nails, but in the end, I'm doing something I love.
I've discovered a passion. There's nothing more exciting than breaking down a road block in your current story, and pressing on, or hearing that a reader loved something you created.
And lastly, I can try and develop a story I want to read. I love so many stories, but sometimes I just want something specific. Writing gives me the outlet to create that.
Money's good too, so 6 figure advance? Yes please! Until that happens, I'll have some coffee and get back to work.
Haste yee back ;-) says
So far, seems I write, to practice my spelling!
Haste yee back 😉
I love the challenge and the pursuit of a story. Following my characters and figuring out their next move are the most interesting/delicious/exciting things I do. Everything else is drab in comparison.
Plus I'd like to make 6 figures. : )
Roger Floyd says
I'm not sure there is anything easier than writing. Think about it–all you have to do is sit in front of a computer and type. I don't know about you but I set my own schedule, make my own deadlines, write what I like and what I want, take a break or meal when I want, go to the library when I want, explore Google when I want, etc., etc. What could be easier? I used to be in the world of science and industry and even held some other jobs that required high performance. The pressure was intense. Now I write, and set my own pace. A lot of jobs out there are much more difficult than writing.
Steve Masover says
Nathan, you wrote "Presently, I am reminded that one of my own personal motivations for writing is, on one level, a desire to uniquely do for others what has been done for me by other authors."
That's huge in my book (as it were).
I remember once a very long time ago explaining this, in very similar terms, to a dear friend. Very smart person, deeply empathic, a social worker. She looked at me like I was from outer space, like feeling a draw to that kind of reciprocity was just plain nuts.
Didn't change my feelings a bit.
Nathan Bransford says
Actually Shawn Thomas Odyssey wrote that! (it's a guest post)
Bryan Russell says
I simiply want to write something great (by my standards). The rest will come and go as it will.
Bryan Russell says
However, I will never use the word simply in my books, since apparently I have trouble typing it.
Excellent guest post! This is something I was thinking about a few weeks ago, when that #whyIwrite hashtag was going around Twitter.
Deep down, I just love the thrill of creating something. And I love words. Combining the two in prose is one of my favorite forms of creating.
This month, as it's NaNoWriMo, I can sit back after a long session of writing and realize how absolutely riveting the writing process was. Even if what I wrote requires a lot of revision, there are always (I hope) little gems in there that I'm proud of that make it worth doing. 🙂
Vera Soroka says
I would have to say that the characters that are constantly in my head demanding attention keep me motivated.
I don't think I have to worry about getting a six figue deal as most of my characters are gay or bisexual.I don't think any of the big 6 will coming knocking on my door.
M.A. Leslie says
This is a great question. It is hard to put my finger on doing something that I don't make money at, that is more like work then work sometimes, and makes me grow extra gray hair.
However, despite all of those things, I picked up a pen one day when I was sick, because it was all I could do and started writing a story that my wife and I have been meaning to write for years.
I haven't been able to put it down since.
Writing keeps my wife and I going, even when times are tougher then we can imagine, at least we can imagine and write about better places and times.
Emily Anderson says
I write because it's the one thing in life I'm good at it. As hard and crazy and frustrating as being a writer can be, it is my comfort zone and I come back to it again and again. When I get stuck it brings me down that I can't do it and I have to fix the story to prove to myself that I can indeed write it.
Mark Terry says
Difficult to know. I've been doing it so long – and I'm going to keep this to fiction, I make a living as a freelance nonfiction writer – that the motivation that's not related to trying to make a living off it gets obscured. One of the things I like about writing fiction is having the story be the one I want to tell, not the one the other people want to tell. It's mine and only I can write it.
That said, I started writing fiction seriously when I was 21 or 22, I'm now making a living as a writer, I've had 14 books published, I'm going to be 48 in January, and the question, "Why write fiction?" becomes more and more difficult to answer.
Time and energy is finite and I increasingly look at the world and think, "Hmmm, haven't done that yet, haven't done that yet, haven't gone there yet, haven't seen that…." and although fiction is wonderful, I do wonder if, well, life's pretty short.
I write because I am completely unemployable.
For me, writing is the strongest means of self-exploration. Like in the big, metaphysical sense of the word. In the same way that traveling somewhere new points out habits or customs that I'd never noticed in myself. Or in the way I am taken and wrapped up by a strain of music and then come out of it differently. When I write, things emerge, and it's great to take a step back and say, "Oh. So that's how I feel."
Keisha Martin says
I began writing a year and a half ago because I finally gave myself permission to pursue my dream. Is it the hardest goal I have ever attempted?
A huge YES but I write because on top of being a mom, in a career that pays well I love writing at night when its so quiet all I hear is the voices in my mind, and listening to my fave muse: Linken Park, GNR and Kings Of Leon that's the greatest part so for me as an aspiring writer.
Peter Dudley says
@Anonymous: You were an English major?
Shawn (or, my apologies, is it Shawn Thomas?), this is well worded and very reasonable. I have followed many publishing twitter feeds for quite a while, and mostly I come away from the computer feeling pummeled by relentless, mostly empty encouragement.
Thanks for the reminder to go chant on the mountain alone for a while.
Annalise Green says
Great question! Lately, my motivation has been that if I don't start to get some of my stories out on paper, I'll regret it for the rest of my life. I've gone through periods where other motivations – recognition, praise – kind of froze me up. So I don't know if this makes sense but right now my motivation is just that I want to do it, and whatever happens will happen.
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Jeffrey Beesler says
The thing that motivates me to write is that if I should happen not to write, a very important truth could be lost forever.
Karen Magill says
Thank you for such a great post. It came at a great time in my life as well – a time when I am feeling a bit discouraged about my writing career.
So what is my motivation? When I write there is a whole world full of people that I get to control. It is up to me what happens in that realm. I don't want to control anyone in real life – that would cause too many conflicts and stress – but I when I write I control the scene until the characters take over.
Usually, it's because I wish to see the character or place or idea brought to life on the page. It's a desire to be creative, which brings me a great deal of emotional satisfaction. And while often difficult and trying at times, for the most part, creating something that has, in some sense, a life of its own, is just a really fun and gratifying thing to do. While finding success through publication is certainly an important element, it isn't the core reason. I want just hope to take readers along for the ride that I enjoyed first when I wrote the story, and hope they feel the same.
Sheila Cull says
As it is in literary Public Relations. In my case, book topics that are from the 1500's and 1800's.
Lucky Cull feels if you're stuck anywhere in the whole writing, publishing thing, like the doors are all closing, Google Nathan Bransford (cost friendly free with no gimmicks!)and reference any of his postings.
My tradition is to find rock star teacher's like Bransford then put on my listening ears.
Lucky Cull Loves Books!
Robena Grant says
I love to write stories because I want to know how they end. : )
D.G. Hudson says
Motivation – to finish the novel, & tell a captivating story.
Research, reading informative blogsites, and communicating with other writers can motivate me.
I like to write, it's something I enjoy. Fiction lets you dream.
Cool post, Shawn! Thanks. I really like what you said about looking for the deeper motivation!
At first I wrote because I had an idea, and once it started infecting my brain, I absolutely needed to get it out. Now, though, I don't think I will ever be able to stop. Writing is a part of me as surely as reading has been since I was young.
Sometimes writing is hard, but most of the time it is rewarding. It is the one thing that is completely mine. I can do whatever I want, create anything I want, and be whoever I want.
I wouldn't mind making a living at writing eventually, and I've made a little money off my first novel, but that's not the most important thing to me. I try to remember that I have a book out, it has my name on it, and everybody in the world has access to it. That's pretty damn cool.
I have spoken in front of large crowds and taught thousands of students. Nothing I have done takes as much courage as pouring your heart into a book, knowing good and well there is someone out there that is going to rip your baby apart. It's all worth it, though, when someone tells you they love what you've written. I have made a blank page my own, creating a story with my mind and my typing fingers. And someone loved it.
What a lovely post! Especially the last paragraph. I would say, to connect with truth and to connect with people (characters and eventually readers). And, yes, to connect with emotions.
Today I'm motivated because I just finished first revision of part 1 of my WIP. Solid progress. My new blog post: Gloating.
Neurotic Workaholic says
Reading books by authors I love makes me feel less lonely, partly because some of the stuff they wrote makes me realize that I'm not the only one who feels that way. I want to be able to achieve that in my own writing. And writing is also a good escape from loneliness, because my characters have become real to me; they make very good company.
My mom knew she only had so many months to live, though at the time, my siblings and I didn't know. One evening she said to me, "I hope one of you will do something special with your life." I was a teenager then. I turned and smiled. "It's going to be me, Mom!"
Now, as an adult and a mother myself, I believe Mom would be proud of ALL of her children. And yes, there are other reasons I write, but this is the one that keeps me motivated. 🙂
CJ Black says
Fantastic post! Shared it on my FB page.
To answer the question, I write because I have to. I can't stop, and believe me, I've tried a few times when I've gotten frustrated or demotivating things have happened or my muse simply refuses to cooperate. But I find myself going right back to it automatically. Studying people and things that I see, wondering what their stories are and going over ideas in my head. So I figure, why fight it? It's ingrained in me and I love doing it.
Back in my elementary years I was captivated by the magic of a good story. I write because I hope to create the same magic for others.
Megan Mitcham says
Words are powerful. Words have the ability to create change and alternate worlds. Words stir emotions. Love to hate, hope to horror, and everything in-between. I write for the adventure that words bring.
Traci Kenworth says
I think it's because writing has helped me through some of the darkest times of my life. And the "magic" behind the story. There's nothing I'd rather do full-time than write. And so I am.
In the midst of a lot of suckitudinous writing, I was wondering why I ever started and your reasons are the same as mine.
Thanks for the reminder.
Pamala Owldreamer says
My motivation for writing is the love of reading and telling a good story.I have writer's withdrawal if I skip a day without writing new scenes in my latest WIP.As Stephen King once said,"Writers cannot not write!"I think writing is one of the hardest & loneliest occupations a person can choose and I was a hospice RN for 30 yrs.No one can or should write the story in your head but you!Having a ghost writer is cheating and vain in my opinion.
1) I love making up stories 2) Success for me is finishing a novel, not publication, so there's really no pressure.
Motivation is a funny thing… it sometimes vanishes with no explanation. I've found what motivates someone to write depends on the type of writer they are.
I'm a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, and on top of that, I never create a main character. My characters just show up and start talking.
So, my motivation? I'd like to make the voices stop, and the only way to do it is to write until they shut the heck up!
Properti Semarang says
When you were growing up, how often did you hear the words, “It’s better to be safe than sorry”? Probably too often, especially when you became aware that most people who played it safe ended up sorry. It is the risk takers who generally end up winners!