Why Do You Write?
Why do you want to write? What pushes or compels you to keep on writing even though you receive rejection after rejection?
Those are the two major questions I’ve often asked writers at the more than 250 conferences where I’ve spoken or taught continuing classes over the past thirty-five years.
The conferees’ responses vary, but the first ones usually begin with high-sounding tones—as if they want to please me, the teacher, or out of a desire to sound erudite. More than once someone has said, “I want to light the way for others to follow.”
Another said, “I see writing as a high and holy occupation because we’re committed to save the world from ignorance.”
That’s commendable—and maybe even true—but I knew those weren’t the deepest reasons.
“I write to make sense of the world,” one man insisted.
He added that he had so much chaos in his daily living that writing was one way he could make sense of his life. When I pushed him to explain further, he admitted he had read the statement in a book, liked it, and was satisfied with that as an answer.
A woman at a conference in Tennessee held up a laminated 3x5 card she kept in her purse. She said that the words, a quotation from Henry James, inspired her every time she read them. She later mailed me a copy:
To live in the world of creation—to get into it and stay in it—to frequent it and haunt it—to think intensely and fruitfully—to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation—this is the only thing. I read the quotation many times before copying it here (with her permission). The only thing? That statement seems extreme, although I’m sure some people find the quotation inspirational. The words sound noble and probably inspire others, but they don’t do anything for me. Perhaps I’m too much of a pragmatist.
To get beyond such lofty language, about five years ago I started opening my lectures this way: “Why do you want to write? While you think about your answer, I’m going to give you several reasons I write. After that, I’ll listen to your responses.”
As soon as they focused their attention on me, I said, “I write because I’m so full of myself, I believe the world is waiting to read my brilliant thoughts.”
They laughed, a few nodded, and all seemed to know what I meant. I went on to explain that I also write because I’m driven to share my thoughts and insights on life.
“I’m a needy guy, and out of my need to feel appreciated, valued, and affirmed, I write,” I say. “That’s as simple and direct as I can put it. Our needs express who we are, what we lack, what we yearn for. All of us feel deficient in some ways.”
I make one additional statement that seems to give several conferees the freedom to speak. “Writing is one way to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy.”
The conferees relax. They no longer need to impress me with lofty statements. They’re ready to give me gut-level responses.
Sometimes, to push them to think deeper, I add, “I write to resolve issues and explore possibilities. At times, it’s a form of therapy. I’ve learned so much from my inward exploring, I’ve probably saved half-a-million dollars in therapist’s fees by being a writer.”
They usually laugh again.
Finally, before I allow them to respond, I write one sentence on the board or flip chart:
I write to find out who I am.
Then I wait.
The hands start waving, and they yell out the kind of things I like to hear. From my perspective, they finally speak from deep inside themselves. This is no longer an exam where they have to voice the right answer to please the teacher; they don’t have to sound noble, sophisticated, or even spiritual.
Occasionally someone will say, “I want to have a book to use as a way to open up a public-speaking career.”
That’s certainly a legitimate answer.
Most of them, however, have deeply personal reasons for writing. “I want to share what I know.”
“I have things to say to enrich others.”
“Writing broadens my life. The more I write and ponder,” one man said, “the more I understand human nature, God, and the world in which I live.”
“Writing satisfies my creative urge.”
“I just have to do it!” one woman yelled. “Many times I tell myself I’ll never write another word, but within a day or two I’m pounding the keyboard again.”
It’s interesting that “to make money” rarely appears on their list of reasons.
Why do you write?
About the Author: New York Times best-selling author and international speaker Cecil Murphey has written or co-written more than 120 books including the runaway bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven with Don Piper.
Excerpted from Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey, OakTara © 2011 Used with Permission