What, how and why do you write?

By Joe Moore

In order to sell the books you write, you need to understand some simple marketing basics first. The better you understand these three points, the better you can relate to your audience and them to you. And understanding these points will make you a better writer.

The easiest to answer is the first: What do you write?

At the highest level, you either fall into the non-fiction or fiction column. Non-fiction includes biographies, history, exposés, how-tos, text books, etc. Fairly clear and straightforward.

The other is fiction, or stuff we make up. Mysteries, thrillers, cozies, romance, westerns, horror, science fiction, historicals, and on and on. If you write fiction but you don’t know what kind, stop right now and go figure it out. Even if it’s a hybrid such as historical romance or cozy western, you need to have it clear in your head. The reason you need it clearly defined is that it will help you also clarify and understand your audience.

How can you define what you write? How do you know your audience? Read books that are similar to what you like to write. Compare their styles to yours. See how those books are defined and categorized. That very well could be the answer you’re looking for. Look at the Amazon pages for those books and their authors. Amazon will show you what other books are being bought by the same audience. Go read some of those books and authors. Now you’re zeroing in on the answer to what you write.

The second question is: How do you write? My blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, thoroughly covered the subject yesterday in her post Which Writer Species Are You? Go read it, then come back. I’ll wait here.

Okay, let’s move on to the most important and hardest to address: Why do you write? Why do you get up before dawn to get a few pages in before heading off to work? Why do you give up time with family and friends to type away at your WIP? Why do you feel that if you can’t write, you’ll go crazy? Why do you find yourself on vacation but thinking about plotting, dialog or character development?

Do you write for fame or money or recognition? I sure hope not.

So why do you write?

You must be able to answer that question. Because if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt why you write, it will come out in your work. It will make your words more believable, stronger, and heartfelt. Your reader will know. They may not define it exactly, but they will know. And they will tell others what a great writer you are. It becomes one of the most important descriptions of your writer “job” there is. Be ready at a moment’s notice with your answer. Because “I write thrillers” is easy. Because “I use an outline” is easy. I write because . . . is hard.

Now fellow Zoners, do you know the answer to why you write? Are you willing to share with us?


Coming this spring: THE SHIELD by Sholes & Moore
Einstein got it wrong!


47 thoughts on “What, how and why do you write?

  1. To entertain.

    My friends tease me because, if there’s a story to tell, I want to tell it. Even if it’s their story I always butt in while they’re trying to tell it. Except I add things, like a giraffe, and then they have to shut me down.

    But it’s fun when I’m on a roll.

  2. When I did close-up magic in high school and college, it was for the satisfaction of seeing astonished looks on faces, and hearing “Wow!” When I performed in bars and restaurants, it was also to make money.

    I write for the same reasons.

  3. Love this, Joe.

    All sorts of thoughts hit me when I talk about why I write, but the many answers boil down to “I do it for me.” I love setting challenges for myself (when it comes to author craft) with every book, to push the envelope & write slightly outside of my comfort zone. I would write whether I sold another book or not. It’s become like breathing to me and has enriched my life. I’ve become a better listener & a better observer of minutiae. The smallest things or stories fascinate me more as a writer. I call it “research” but it’s more like my mind is unleashed to ask countless questions.

    Anyway. I could go on, but thanks for your thought provoking post. Can’t wait to read what others say.

  4. John totally beat me to that (hey, I have to put laundry in.) I want to read a cozy western.

    I writer thrillers and this one went over the edge into romantic suspense.

    My writer species is harried, but otherwise only marginally employable so I need to get better at it.

    I write because it helps me corral and categorize my feelings, dreams, longings and all that good stuff. In meat-world I’m pretty self-contained, even reserved. In words, I am . . . otherwise.


  5. I write because I love stories. All kinds of stories, in any form – film, TV, novel, stage. Hell, I only enjoy video games if they have a strong story (The Last of Us, Mass Effect trilogy, etc.). And yet, evey time I’m finished with a story, I think about what I would have done differently, and it eats at me. Even the greats, I can always find a different way I would have gone. Writing just helps me get out what would otherwise continue to occupy space in my head.

    As for type, I’m with those who hate to write, but love to have written. The satisfaction is like the runner’s high someone mentioned yesterday. Makes grinding out 177 words in a two hour period worth it when you hit a good spot and get down 2077 words in another 2-hour period.

    • I do the same thing, Jake. When the show or movie is over, I always come up with a list in my head of how I would have made it better. Not that it really would have, but it’s all part of the writer job. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I think your question is really speaking to the idea of having a purpose. I wrote about that a couple of weeks ago in Finding Your Purpose
    Writing is a skill–which we can apply to our real purpose in life. Finding that purpose can help answer the question of “why”.

    • On the other hand, the writing may have nothing to do with one’s true purpose in life. However, i suspect that for most TKZ-ers, writing is part of that picture.

  7. You’re right, Kathryn. The question certainly expands beyond writing. And if we can answer the bigger question of our purpose in life, doing the same for our writing will come easier.

    • Agreed, Clare. Sometimes when I meet someone and they ask me why I write, I say that I never got over playing “pretend” when I was a kid.

  8. Stimulating post, Joe.
    I write because of my 3rd grade teacher reading aloud “Charlotte’s Web” and “Little House on the Prairie”. Because of Jim Kjelgard and his series of outdoor adventures. Because of Jack London’s work and Steinbecks’ “The Pearl” and “Of Mice and Men”. Because of Assimov, Vonnegut, Leon Uris, Jules Verne, Michael Crichton and Daniel Defoe. The story “Flowers for Algernon” and on up through James Lee Burke, Nelson DeMille, Jo Nesbo, Deon Meyer and countless other brilliant writers.
    I write because I am moved by the drama, excitement and poignancy that great story communicates. Reading is not an escape, imo, but rather magnifies and enhances the passion that this life blesses us with.

    I write because I love the challenge and hope that I might provide to others the life-affirming pleasure that reading provides me. That would make me feel, as JSB so eloquently described, “Wow”

  9. I write so the voices in my head will shut up. Did I just say that?

    I have A.D.D. and so I constantly have thoughts in my head, some connected, some not. When I put these thoughts to the keyboard, it doesn’t feel as painful.

    I know, I’m weird like that.

    • Love your reasoning, Diane. Sometimes the voices in my head actually have some good ideas. Still got to keep them in their place, though.

  10. I write crime fiction, hard-boiled in nature. (Though I hate that term.) Why do I write? Because I like it. Really. As soon as I stop liking it, I’ll quit.

    • I’m not of fan of the term “hard-boiled” either, Dana. But I do agree with you that once it’s not fun, go do something else. So far, it’s still tons of fun for me. Sounds like the same for you.

  11. I’ve been fascinated by books (first, it was comic books) and radio (The Shadow Knows, UH-UH-UH) and stories since I was a little kid. I would make books with pictures in them, before I knew how to write. I would tell stories in the car while we would travel – – and drive my parents nuts. Probably, it’s imagination running wild. I was lucky to fall into a job as a technical writer and happen to be pretty good at it. At least I was writing, editing, revising and all that writerly sort of stuff. Now, I want to write thrillers and I’m working on it (aside from shoveling snow) and having a wonderful time. Yeah, it’s work, and I already know that. As “da boyz” are so fond of saying, “I chose this life and there’s no going back.”

    And HEY, BASIL: Thanks for sending all that chilly weather down here, dude. It’s like -5 this morning.

    • Yeah…sorry about that, left the fan on with the windows open and it apparently pushed it all south. Nice thing is I can see my grass up here in Anchorage. Troyer’s up in Fairbanks and may have had a hand in this too. 😉

  12. I write because I want to change the world, or at least inform them of what it looks like from my perspective. I write my stories to illustrate the way I hope my boys will perceive their place in the world as men of honor. I write to continue the age old tradition of Tales of Heroes and Heroines that have been told around the campfire for eons to inspire the young to greatness.

    Gniili: No it isn’t, you write because Berthold won’t stop bothering you.

    Basil: Hush little man. I write to change the world.

    Fiili: That’s not what you said the other day. You said you write because of us and because you like things that go boom.

    Gniili:Yeah, and you like to write nice things too…like flowers, and pretty state trooper ladies with ninja skills.

    Berthold: 是啊,你說因為那些漂亮的女孩停止了交談,你需要我們的幫助,使故事。

    Gniili, Fiili, Basil: stunned stare.

    Berthold: Sorry, I meant to say ‘Yeah, you said since those pretty muse girls stopped talking to you needed our help to make stories.’

    Basil: Let’s not talk about the girls.

    Fiili: Are they coming back?

    Basil: I hope.


    Gniili:I miss them. They smell nice.

    Berthold:That’s what I said.

    Sad fiddle music accompanies the smokey odour of fresh bacon sandwiches as we fall into silence.

    I feel like writing a fight scene now….before I cry.

  13. I write my editor’s guides to writing compelling fiction because I have way more writers contacting me to edit and critique their fiction than I have time to work with, and this way I can help others I can’t work with one on one. And we all get to enjoy the results when we read stronger, more engaging novels!

    And I love the positive feedback from writers and aspiring authors who read my books! It’s what inspires me to keep going, especially the question, “When’s your next book coming out?”

  14. Fun post, Joe! I write historical romance with a bunch of stuff thrown in the creative book producing processor including inspirational elements and mystery/suspense. Eventually a little steampunk too. What is that? Eclectic romance?

    I’m a harried, organic writer that marvels at those who can outline and stay so wonderfully creative.

    I still dream of making enough money to live on after my hubby and I retire from our day jobs. I write to leave something of me behind in the world when I’m long gone. With e-books that could be a long time. 🙂 Bottom line, I write because it’s challenging and I like a great challenge.

  15. I write because I get so angry / sad / frustrated / confused / perplexed / or, alright, pleased at people and society and the world around me. The only sane way (for me) to get over all these emotions is to push them into stories where I can rationalize the bejeezus out of it all and try to either make it better or blow it to smithereens.
    Cozy westerns, huh? I don’t think my wild west steampunk alternate world quite fits – the only thing cozy in this work-in-progress is the way Miss Emily folds the napkins.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jeannie. And don’t give up on the idea of cozy westerns yet. I hear the first title out will be TEATIME AT RATTLESNAKE GULCH.

  16. Dear cosy western inventor:
    In this life, I have control over very little. Not in terms of economics, not in terms of age, health, politics, etc. But language is something I have an honest shot at controlling. And that’s why writing for me is synonymous with meaning.

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