“An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Okay writers, why do you write? I’m sure if you ask 100 different writers you’ll get 100 different answers, but I’ve always been a believer in the idea that you write because you have to.
Writing is an act of ego, an act of saying “I exist and because I exist I have something to say, and because I have something to say you should listen to me.” But why should anyone listen to you? Why should anyone listen to me? It’s always frustrating to receive a rejection on a short story or manuscript that you’ve poured yourself into, and it’s easy to be hurt by that, but really, why should anyone give a damn that you’ve written a story?
I think that’s a question that everyone who considers themselves a writer needs to ask. It’s easy to have this expectation that if you create a story that you think (you know) is great, that others should be jumping to read and publish it. But that’s simply not the case, at least not for most of us. If you’re unknown it’s almost impossible to get anyone to give a damn. Of course, if you’re already known, even if it’s for something completely unrelated to writing, book deals are handed out left and right with giant advances. Who cares that a ghostwriter actually wrote 95% of the book? Real writers, that’s who.
But anyway, motivation. Why do you write? Time and time again over the years I’ve had the thought that I just need to give up, that I can’t keep bashing my head against the wall and hoping others will see value in my work and publish it. Sometimes this lasts a couple hours, or couple days, but sooner or later I’m back at it, scribbling at four in the morning, outlining some idea I’ve had that I’d like to explore. There are a lot of reasons why it would be smart for me to give up and stop this nonsense – it would certainly save me a lot of stress and worry – but I’m never able to. Writing has always been the dominant way that I’ve expressed myself, even if no one else reads it.
Differences in motivation, however, clearly have a great impact on stories. When I’m stuck focusing on the idea that I just need to finish the story to get it published, or even focus just on the idea that the point of the story is to get it published, then I freeze up and my prose is crap. If I’m going to have any command of language at all, my motivation has to be on connection – connection with the reader and with the wider world in general, a seeking of understanding that hopefully will resonate with others.
Writing is a lonely, lonely profession. I don’t know how people can do it (or claim to do it) in noisy places like coffeehouses (Maybe coffeehouses in the day, but now there’s almost always some obnoxious music playing, people talking loudly on their cell phones, or hammering away at laptops, no one looking at each other, no one inspiring each other, everyone in their own little bubble, not giving a damn that I even exist.) And so I sit in my apartment, or if it’s nice perhaps go outside to a quiet place, and scratch words into paper, desperately hoping I can make sense of my own thoughts so that someone else can see that I’m a human being, so that I can be real.