Why Do We Write?

by Janis Patterson

It’s just about the greatest mystery of all – why do we write? Oh, let’s be honest – we all have great dreams of becoming rich and famous, hitting every list made, having screaming fans lined up around the block just to buy a book with our autograph in it… all lovely dreams, but I think that most of us are savvy enough to realize that such things happen to only a very few. (I mean, it could be me, but most likely not…)

These days the vast majority of professional writers are not getting rich. Some make a decent living, some make money on the hobby level. Only a few are truly prospering. Almost all – save for the fortunate few – could make much more money in some other field of endeavor. A great number do have to work at another job to survive.

Of course, there is the indefinable cachet of being ‘an author,’ of having written a book.

Perhaps that accounts for some of the people writing today. They aren’t that interested in writing a book, but they positively salivate at the thought of being known as having written one.

And therein lies one of the main problems of self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong – self-publishing is one of the greatest things to happen to both readers and writers. It expands the market, gives power (and money!) to the authors and gives the readers a much wider choice of reading materials. On the downside, it also allows people who should never be allowed near a word processor to publish a ‘book’ and become a ‘published author.’

Stringing a requisite number of words together does make a book – sort of – just not necessarily a good one. There is no magic pill to turn an idea into a good book. Writing a good book is not easy, but just about anyone can do it, if they put enough work into it. Talent can make it easier, but mainly it’s learning what makes a good book and how to create one… and I repeat, that is a lot of work.

Usually the ‘I am now a published writer’ crowd stops with one or two books. Even good writers sometimes stop with one or two books after they learn how much work it takes to get their ideas decently on to paper – or how little remuneration most of them can expect. If the writer is holding out for traditional publishing, the wait can go on for years before the bland negativity of a rejection letter appears. Even if one is lucky enough to be picked up by a trad house, the money usually isn’t all that good and there’s even more waiting until release.

So why do we write? It’s pleasant to create a world and a population out of nothing but imagination and caffeine (and on occasion chocolate). It’s pleasant to talk about ‘my publisher’ and ‘my new release.’ It’s pleasant to see one’s name on a book, and – should you have a book signing – enjoyable to talk to people who like to read and then to write your name into the copy of your book they just bought. And to receive the checks, however small, is nice too.

Still such minor triumphs can’t justify why people continue to write and submit and self-publish for years with minimal returns. It is made even harder when their books are of decent to very good quality – but the lightning of good luck strikes a badly written story, dousing its author with fame and fortune.

So why do we do it? The answer is simple. There’s no choice to it. Anyone can write, given enough time and study and dedication. Writers cannot help but write.