The Importance of Knowing Why You Write

knowing why you write - man typing on computer

Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Why do you write?

If you are a writer, it’s an important question to ask yourself.

Had I asked myself this question a year ago, my answer would have been that I write because it’s my clearest form of communication. I can get my point across, tell a story, or relay information more concisely and intelligently in writing than through the spoken word.

For some reason, my thoughts from brain to paper (or computer) emerge more easily and eloquently than they do from brain to mouth. And happily I can edit myself on paper. Oh my, if I had a dollar for every uttered word that I should have stuffed back into my mouth!

Now that I have started a blog, my feelings about why I write have changed forever.

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~ William Wordsworth

And I have changed as a person in the process. My blog initially was a temporary web site for my coaching practice. I didn’t have the time or skill to put together a web site, so I found a simple blogging template and created a platform for writing about coaching issues.

I saw my writing as a marketing forum for my business. But then a funny thing happened on the way to that forum. People started responding to my blog. They were getting something from what I was writing. I was receiving e-mails and calls from people telling me that I had helped them or touched them in some way.

I was serving them, whether I intended to or not.

Somewhere along the way, serving people became more important to me than “getting clients.”

I switched my intention from getting to giving. I began to view writing not as tool to make money, but as a creative gift that I could share with others. This mental shift was liberating for me, and now I don’t worry about perfection or impressing others with my writing. I just want to make sure my readers take away something valuable and useful for their lives.

Since my perspective has changed, another amazing thing has happened.

Wonderful gifts have come my way in the form of new friends, new opportunities, new learning, and yes, some new clients too. The best part for me is the feeling of purpose I have around my writing. I feel fulfilled and happy — like I am doing something really good. Getting paid for it will be nice, but at the moment, I see that as secondary. I trust it will come.

Writing can be a lonely business.

When it’s just you and your fingers tapping away at your keyboard, it’s hard to visualize your readers out there and how your words will impact them. Writers spend a lot of time worrying about deadlines and content and sources of inspiration. It can be a very self-focused activity where the rewards often appear long after the work is finished.

Most other creative types get to enjoy the immediate gratification of their patrons’ response and appreciation.

Dancers, musicians, actors, even visual artists can perform their craft and reap the rewards fairly quickly. Writers must plod along, hammering ideas into words with no supportive fans standing behind them shouting, “Well done, bravo!”

As a writer, you must create your own motive and reward for doing the work. When inspiration fails you, when you are tired or bored with writing, what is your raison d’etre? What keeps you going?

If you would like to harness a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment around your writing work, here are some suggestions you might consider:

  1. Shift your focus. As you begin to write the very first word, shift your focus away from yourself or the thought process of writing and move it to your reader. Ask yourself repeatedly, “How can I serve, and what can I offer my beloved reader?” See the act of writing, not just the finished product, as a gift of love to the world. When you focus on serving, you create a vision for your writing that provides inspiration and direction.
  2. Write from the heart. Be real and authentic in your writing. Open yourself to feeling what your readers might be experiencing and respond to their needs as though you were a trusted friend. Put your reader’s needs first, and let your emotions around those needs guide your ideas and words.
  3. Share personal stories, even if you do that through a fictional character. Draw from your own experiences and be willing to reveal some of your flaws and failures. If people can relate to you, they can grow and learn from what you have to say. We all love a great story!
  4. Be a teacher. People are hungry to learn. Find ways to share new ideas, skills and concepts with your reader without sounding preachy or condescending. Do your research and give them something solid to take away from the experience of reading your writing. Reading for pleasure is great, but reading for pleasure with benefits is even better. I love historical fiction for this very reason.
  5. Lift them up and inspire them. In a world fraught with bad news, ugly and horrifying images, and mean-spirited commentary, become a source of vision and illumination. If you believe in some form of divine intelligence or in just plain goodness, imbue your writing with a heavy dose of it. People crave sources of inspiration and hope. Be one of those sources. Let your writing reflect the best parts of your psyche and soul.
  6. Make them laugh. If you have ever read a book by David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day and When You Are Engulfed in Flames), you’ve seen how he can transform the most mundane or pathetic life situation into a laugh-out-loud vignette that is wildly entertaining and fun to read. If you are downright funny or even just a little witty, please share that with the world. We need to laugh and see the humor in the inanities of life. It’s good for the soul.
  7. Stay tuned-in and inquisitive. Get out of the house and step away from the computer. Go out and find your readers. Observe and listen to people. Keep a little notebook in your pocket and write down ideas and inspiration you receive from your observations and interactions with people. Ask your readers thoughtful and probing questions about their interests, their worries, and their hopes and dreams. Your readers are your best resource for topics and inspiration, so go out there and meet them.
  8. Leave a legacy. Remember Randy Pausch, the professor at Carnegie Mellon University with pancreatic cancer, who wrote The Last Lecture? His real last lecture at Carnegie Mellon was part of a lecture series where top academics were asked to think deeply about what matters to them and give a hypothetical final talk.For Randy, knowing he had a short time to live, it wasn’t hypothetical. His real motivation was to leave a legacy for his children. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but shouldn’t we all have that motivation?

Knowing why you write

What will be your legacy? Is your writing part of that? If so, then write every day like it is your last lecture and leave the stamp of your creative service on the world.

About the author

Barrie Davenport

This is a guest post written by Barrie Davenport, a life and career coach and founder of Live Bold and Bloom, a blog about fearless living.