It’s my least favorite part of the writing process—the moment when I step back, look at what I’m working on and wonder what the heck I was thinking. It’s at this moment that any work of art is in the most danger. It’s when the creator decides if a project moves on to editing or hits the dustbin.
Stephen King had it when he tossed his original manuscript of Carrie into the garbage. We all have moments of self-doubt. It’s easy to give up and scrap the whole mess… or prepare ahead of time and reduce the anguish.
KNOW WHY BEFORE YOU TRY
Before you ever set pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, you can head off the terrible moment of doubt by being honest with yourself. It’s important to know why you want to write before you commit to it. The good news is there are no wrong answers. The bad news is it can be hard to be honest about our motives to create. Just remember there are no wrong answers and be transparent. If we can’t be truthful with ourselves we might have bigger things to work on.
5 REASONS WE WRITE
- To make money and be famous. This is probably the most disparaged motivation for writing but it’s a valid one. There is nothing wrong with making a living or getting accolades from what bounces around in your head. If this is your goal as a writer, treat your writing as a commodity. Research markets and trends, find the most lucrative and focus all your efforts there. Money doesn’t come without marketing, so make plans for what you will write, and then how you’re going to sell it.
- To sell yourself and your business. It’s easier to be published now than at any other point in history, but having a published book is still impressive and sets an author up as an expert. Whether you are writing fiction or fact, writing a book can validate you as a thought leader in your field of expertise. James Herriot wrote warm and fuzzy stories about animals as a rural veterinarian. What better advertisement for a veterinarian than heart-warming stories about animals? It’s no coincidence he ran a thriving practice until he retired in 1989 at 73 even though he published under a pen name. His veterinarian practice is still in business today.
- To teach and inspire. An altruistic motive, another reason to write is to share knowledge for the betterment of people-kind. A good story can ignite a revolution and change minds… hopefully for the better. Role models are important but not everyone has the blessing to grow up with positive influences in their life. Luckily, those who don’t have a flesh and blood inspiration can almost always access the pixel and ink variety. Providing that guidance is a rewarding and precious responsibility.
- To entertain and amuse. Just as noble is the desire to simply entertain. Sometimes people just need a little relief from the daily grind of reality. I learned this during the pandemic when I met a tiny, elderly woman returning a stack of pulp romance novels at the library. “Thank goodness these stories give me something to look forward to or I think I’d just give up” she told me. Not every story needs to change the world. Sometimes just changing one person’s world makes all the difference.
- Because you are compelled. I think this is possibly the most difficult to justify. Some writers write because they can’t imagine doing anything else. If they never make a penny, get any recognition or even have a single reader they will still write. Receiving some love for their work makes them happy, but if they were alone in a cave using charcoal and animal skin, they would still be scribbling.
KNOWING WHY IS KNOWING WHAT, WHERE AND WHO
Anyone who thinks the why they write doesn’t matter is doing themselves an injustice. The why is at the heart of everything and can be the difference between fulfillment or frustration. When you know why you want to write it helps you understand what to write, where to release it and for who.
As an example, a lawyer who wants to publish a book to set themselves up as a leader in their industry probably won’t benefit from publishing a romance novel unless they specialize in divorce proceedings. But what if their motivation isn’t to supercharge their legal practice but to entertain? Then by all means, turn up the steam and let the broken hearts shatter.
Knowing why you want to write helps you to streamline your career and avoid the terrible moment of realizing you just spent a good deal of time and energy on something that will not get you where you need to go.
THERE CAN BE MORE THAN ONE
Just remember that why you want to write can change over time and from project to project, and often there is a blend of motivations rather than just one reason. In the case of the lawyer above, what if they wanted to establish themselves as an industry leader and entertain? Then writing thriller novels might be a satisfying option. What if they wanted to be an industry leader and inspire? Nonfiction about criminal redemption might be a good choice. The divorce lawyer might write about relationship topics.
Whatever your motivation, understanding the why will help you know where you want to go with your story. If your intention is to make an income, you’ll need to research what genres are selling and where. Paranormal romance seems to do well with younger, female readers and many of them use serial fiction apps like Radish, Wattpad and Webnovel. For those already self-publishing with KDP there is now Kindle Vella to explore.
If your aim is to get a message out, you might want to focus on a blog or ebooks you can distribute free. If you want fame with your fortune, understand the price. You will need effective marketing and a professional, polished product. If this is a one-time bucket list item then perhaps sinking money into your work to get pretty formatting and art is fine. If you are trying to forge a career as an author-preneur, every penny counts and you best barter or teach yourself. There are no wrong answers, but in this case ignorance is not bliss.
KNOWING IS GLOWING
Knowing why you write is the foundation you need to establish for a rewarding career, regardless of motives. And what does a successful writing career look like? If you know why you write, it looks exactly like that. Writers that constantly chase trends without knowing why often burn themselves out. Disappointment is their reward.
If you are happy with writing a few stories for the grandkids, don’t let anyone make you feel like you aren’t a success when you achieve that. At the same time, if your goal is fame and fortune, understand that you are going to work hard, sacrifice much and demolish your comfort zones to get there. You can achieve whatever you want for your work if you know what you are trying to achieve and then take steps to do that.
YOUR TAKEAWAY TASK
This week, take some time to evaluate your motives as a creator. Think of role models and people that inspire you. Try to pinpoint the elements you want to emulate. Why are they a success in your eyes? Chances are, that’s what you want. If you could achieve your goal any other way, would you? Feel free to share in the comments.
To help you, here are two excellent videos from leadership expert Simon Sinek on defining your why: