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Why do writers write? Really?

Updated on April 21, 2013

What motivates an author to write a story?


Have you ever watched a webinar targeted at would-be authors? They can get very wearisome, can’t they? I’ve just sat through a two-hour marathon where a troupe of ‘best selling’ writers I’d never heard of whipped us to the finishing post with repeated admonitions ‘Find your Voice’. Or heart. Or soul. Or guts. Or, with 50 Shades of Grey in mind, organs more suited to a breathless finish.

And I’ve despaired.

You don’t need to ‘find’ yourself to finish a novel, or any longish story. Just write. And your story will find you.

Undeniably, writing is hard work.

I remember taking up jogging at age 21 after three years of student debauchery. I collapsed just a few paces outside my front gate. So I compromised with a long walk that got brisker by the day. Within a month I was jogging three miles before breakfast. I became addicted. Not to the jog but to the rush of endorphines (or is it dopamines?) that followed afterwards.

It’s the same rush a practised writer feels when, after finishing their word count for the day, they know they’ve written good words. Tomorrow, they may have to change all those good words but today the job’s done.

They don’t need to find their Voice. Their story finds it for them. And the reward is to finish the story.

Writing is like jogging.

You don’t engage your Voice or guts. You don’t watch your feet. You focus on the path. And the reward comes in the shower afterwards when your body chemicals cry “well done!” At least, that’s how - and why - I write and perhaps many pro writers feel the same.

1st. Plan your route.

2nd. Don’t think.

3rd. Run, collapse, enjoy.

Is that why writers write?

Does that answer the long-whiskered question: why do writers write? No. It doesn’t explain why we want to suffer that particular form of pain instead of other painful pursuits, like scaling a mountain or taking up tae kwon do.

Is it be accepted in the community of writers and proclaim “I am an author”? Or to feel the ego-glow when somebody other than our spouse says “this story’s good”? Or is it because we just can’t stop ourselves?

Usually, the latter.

Recently I did a survey of the 4000+ members of my free writing course, the Writers’ Village master class. Why do you write? I asked. Here are the answers they gave me, in descending order of importance:

1. “I just can’t help myself. Writing is a compulsion.”

2. "When I finish a story to my liking, I feel a glow of achievement."

3. "It's fun to share my private story world and know that people enjoy it as much as I do."

4. "If my stories are published, even in a small way, I like the sense that I've joined a unique community. I'm now an 'author'."

Hardly anybody wrote “for money”. If money happened, that was a bonus. But they’d write anyway because they had to. It was a compulsion.

Forgive me while I rush away. I have to scribble an idea on the back of a till receipt. Why? I just have to…

Why do you write? Really? Tell us!

Dr John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. You can find a wealth of ideas for writing successful stories in his free 14-part course at Writers' Village:


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    • John Yeoman profile image

      John Yeoman 5 years ago from Story writing land in the centre of England

      Thanks, Chinared. Nice to meet you here, especially a subscriber :) Yes, writing is therapy. I had to write 800 words this morning, before I could face breakfast. But that was non-fiction. Fiction is harder. Guess I'll wait till after lunch...

    • chinared profile image

      Just call me, Rick 5 years ago from Asia, and all over

      Wow... what a question. I agree that writing is a compulsion, but more than that, it suffices as therapy. I write fiction as a way to explore my thoughts in different forms, through someone else's eyes and experiences. I also subscribe to your newsletter... very valuable information! Thanks!