Why do you write books?

by Joe Moore

At one of my recent fiction workshops I asked the attendees why they want to write a book. The responses varied, and all were interesting. Then I pointed out which responses I felt were good reasons and which were not so good. First the not so good.

Fame. Fame is fleeting and almost never comes quickly if at all. For all those striving to become famous, only a few ever achieve it. We’ve all heard stories of writers who self published and became rich. They make the news because they’re rare. If you’re writing for notoriety, reexamine your goals and objectives.

Money. I know a few professional writers who make a good living at the craft. I know many others who make money at writing, but not enough to support themselves and their families. They must be creative in supplementing their writing income—the most common form is to maintain a day job. The rest make so little money at it that one wonders why bother. If you’re writing to make a fortune, call me when you do so I can borrow from you.

Influence. There are some new writers whose main goal is to impress their readers, perhaps with their ginormous brains or voluminous vocabularies. If that’s the motivator you rely on, stick to scientific papers with limited circulation before your brain explodes in frustration.

Agenda. You have a moral crusade and you want to preach it to the masses. You figure you can do it through a novel and no one will figure out that it’s your personal agenda you’re expressing and not your protagonist. Readers are smart. They’ll see you coming a mile away.

Now the good.

No alternative. We write novels because we can’t think of a good reason not to. Wanting to write is not a reason—needing to write is. We simply need to get our stories told. Even if there is no one to read them. Even if we never make a penny. Even if they are for our eyes only. Although it is visually gross and probably tasteless, I always think of the baby alien bursting out of the crewman’s chest in the movie Alien. The story is coming out and there’s nothing we can do about it but sit down and start typing.

As a dear friend and mentor of mine once said, “We write because we’re ate up with it.”

So, TKZers, why do you write?


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27 thoughts on “Why do you write books?

  1. I like to entertain. From home. In my pj’s. Not large crowds, I don’t stand out at a party, but I like to think there might be a few people, somewhere, I might make smile.

  2. The strongest motivation for writing a book is the desire to create the book you want to read. That implies some frustration with what you’re reading. It’s the same with composing music, painting pictures – all the arts. If you love your art form you are inevitably going to envision it in an ideal, personal form that just isn’t out there. So you have to make it.

  3. Writing is a creative outlet for me. The process of putting words to paper and tweaking them so they fit just right is cathartic. It’s like working a giant jigsaw puzzle (which I also love). The novel is built piece-by-piece until it’s complete. And like Amanda said, I hope the finished work provides a temporary distraction from someone’s daily grind.

  4. Hmmm. I don’t have to write. For years, I didn’t. The ideas were there, and they moved me. That was good enough.
    I write because there are people to whom I wish to hold a mirror for, and let them see themselves as I see them, to know that they’re wonderful. Along the way, I try to impart a few thoughts, so I suppose I have an agenda, too.
    For seasoning, mix in a little of Amanda and entertainment, a dash of John seeking the book I wanted to read.
    That’s why I write.

  5. I like to tell stories, a gift I like to think I inherited from my dad, who was the best storyteller I’ve ever known. And the ability to pile words together into sentences and sentences into stories is really the only skill I have. So I kind of have to. Over the years I’ve written tens of thousands of words in thousands of stories as a journalists. Pushing myself to write a story that will hold readers, entertaining and maybe even thrilling them, is a lot more fun and interesting.

  6. I write because I need it. I need is as bad as I need breathing. It’s FUN. It’s a great outlet. And as I learn about craft and ways to improve my writing, I feel like I’m expanding my mind. Since I hold a teaching position at a local university for my day job, the idea of learning and constantly improving my mind is important.

  7. Why do people chase balls around courts and fields? No one asks them that.

    I write as a challenge and to stretch myself and my abilities. It keeps my brain fresh and creative. I enjoy it, even the hard parts.

    I love the “influencers” who say they are GOINGTOCHANGEYOURLIFEFOREVER. The books that have influenced me have been the quiet ones. Like most readers, I can spot an agenda a mile away.

    And fame and money are out of your control. They are given (and not always given fairly, oh well.)

    At the end of the day I write because I love it, I’m good enough at it that combined with other things I can make a living at it, and it makes me feel whole.

    Great question! Terri

    It’s Devil’s Deal Release Day!

  8. Excellent post, Joe, and an entertaining read, to boot! I write my craft-of-writing articles and books because, through my editing of fiction, I see so many ways novels or short stories can be improved, and I don’t have the time or energy to work with all those aspiring authors one-on-one. And it’s so satisfying to see the results in their work, and gratifying to get the feedback through reviews and emails!

    I wish I had stories in me dying to come out, like the rest of you, but since I don’t, I’m thrilled to be able to help writers take their skills up several notches and tell the best story they can!

  9. I actually think it’s oaky to write for money. The old pulp writers did it as a way to make a living during the Depression. They figured out how to be prolific and good. They could have worked at a gas station, but chose writing instead.

    IOW, it’s a legit profession. But you have be able to live with the uncertainty of it, and continue to grow in your craft.

    Which means you better love the craft, because you’re going to spend so much time with it.

    Thus I have managed to connect love and money. Not bad.

  10. I write because, to be honest, it seems to be the one thing I do well. I do a lot of things sort of okay — cooking, drawing, growing plants. But writing is something I have done since I was a kid and I guess it is that one true thing inside me.

    I also just love words. I love crossword puzzles, learning foreign languages, finding out where words came from, even grammar. I love the beautiful science of finding the right word. I love articulate people. I love it when I find a writer whose way of showing us the world makes my senses prick with recognition. (stole that from Stephen King!)

    I wish I could play the piano really well. I wish I could have been a professional dancer. I wish I was good enough at math to have been an astronomer. But I don’t have those gifts. I’m not complaining. I’m lucky to have found something I can do well enough to make a little money and a lot of happiness.

  11. I ask myself that question often. Then I answer myself by saying, there are these stories in my head that I’m compelled to get out (like the alien baby). And there are characters waiting for their stories to be told, waiting their turn, and I have been assigned the responsibility to tell those stories. Thus I am committed to all these people whom only I know that need me to follow through and get the job done.I’m glad you are all writers, because otherwise, I sound pretty crazy.

  12. Get the stories out of my head. Money is good. Leaving a legacy behind of my life, history, opinions and stories. 3 of my grandparents wrote some kind of memoir & I appreciate their efforts. No one else has a literary bent. There’s not many writers who can produce more than one book. Or even write one original book if the buyers of short pieces on Craig’s list & recent plagiarists are any example.

  13. Although I enjoy writing almost anything (except advertising copy), I love the magic of writing fiction. At least, for me, the process is often magical, with characters coming so much to life that they want to push me around.

    I’ve played the piano professionally, and although I can get lost for hours in the music, it’s a different feeling, i.e., I wouldn’t call it magical.

    It’s not that writing fiction is always magical, but since I happen to love editing and refining, too, I keep on doing it so that I can experience that joyful magic.

  14. Joe–
    I used to be guilty of some of the “bad” motives you list, but these days it’s real simple with me. I’m a wordaholic, and writing is the only thing I’m good at. But maybe I should put it a little more modestly: writing is the only thing I think I’m good at–even though I often end sentences with prepositions.

  15. How many of the ‘Greats’ wrote without an agenda? They wrote about stuff that mattered to them whether that was poverty, justice, death, war etc. Is this not an agenda?

  16. I’ve spent so many hours over the last 4 years writing, studying the craft, reading as a writer that now I feel I have to write. Similar to sitting at a poker table where you’ve put so many chips in that you might as well throw a few more in to see how your hand plays out.

    I’ve made a lot of money, lost a lot of money, sought out many widely varied experiences solely for experience’s sake. At this point in my life, the reason I write is in pursuit of the self fulfillment that has always escaped me. I didn’t feel it when I was wealthy. Don’t feel it now when I’m not.

    F#ck fame. Extra dough would be nice. But to have an agent, a reputable publisher take interest in my work, put it out into the world and to have people spend their hard earned coin and valuable time reading what I’ve written, whether the pay off would be in six figures or three, then I would attain that self fulfillment that has been so evasive for so many years.

  17. I write out of an overwhelming financial urge to push my moral crusade on a global scale via an agenda of world changing story-telling that convinces people there is no alternative but to recognize the fame and fortune I am due and thereby to listen attentively to the voices in my head as they speak the utter wisdom of the truth that is telling them, “pay him for his stories because you should, they’re good like that”.

    that or it’s just a spigot I can’t figure out how to turn off…could be that too.

  18. I can’t NOT write. I’ve tried, and it doesn’t last long before the tension builds. Writing gives me a purpose. And I can no more shut off the way I view things as a writer than I can cut off a limb. It’s part of me.

  19. I write to express what’s needing to be born through me whether serious or comedic. I write to connect with others and help the reader laugh, cry and explore where we meet on the page. I write because it fills me up with life.

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