Getting to the Heart of Why You Write What You Write

Understanding why you write what you write, and what brings joy to your writing, is key because if you are going to write for life—if writing novels is a career goal for you—then you want to make sure you are writing in a genre that you enjoy and that fulfils your need to be creative.

You motivation plays a big part in your success and happiness.

Sure, you could chose to write something you dislike, and you might not care. Maybe what you write isn’t at all important to you and doesn’t affect how you feel about writing. Some writers only write to make a living and they view it as any other job.

There is nothing wrong with that. But other writers find it difficult to spend hours, weeks, even years of their life writing material that doesn’t interest them. And it often shows in what and how they write.

I firmly believe we should be able to find joy and fulfillment in everything we do in life. And when it comes to writing fiction, I don’t believe any writer should be miserable or hate writing, because they’ve chosen to write something because it sells and can make them a living.

So this is why I’d like you to take a moment to stop and reflect on why you write what you write.

Let’s look at some reasons people write books:

  • To express creativity. Some write because they love it. These writers may not care at all about getting published or about selling thousands of copies. They aren’t writing to make a living.
  • To teach or share some info they have. Some writers may want to reach a lot of people and may or may not care if they sell big. Whether fiction or nonfiction, they use writing as a way to convey ideas, beliefs, or themes.
  • To make money. Some write predominantly to either to support themselves or to get rich and famous (or both). Some people write things that don’t enjoy but they do it anyway. It’s paying the bills.
  • To get fans and readers. One author told me “You never really feel complete or successful as a writer until you have an audience.” For some, it’s that connection with readers that makes it all worthwhile.

Your reasons may be a combination of these. There is no good/bad or right/wrong. However, since your expectations and motivation play a huge part in your joy and satisfaction in your writing journey, if you are pursuing success for reasons that are detrimental to you, you need to stop and look at that.

Here’s the big issue, then, for you.

If you’re writing just to make money, you’ll have no problem with finding something to write about. You can use your talents and skill in writing books to sell big. All of this can apply to fiction or nonfiction: How-to books, cookbooks, novels, memoirs.

But if you love to write only one kind of story, or don’t want to box in your creativity or story ideas, you may be more challenged in trying to find your niche in the publishing world.

I was like this. I was told for years if I wanted to make money, I should write romance. Romance sells better than any genre, and romance readers are voracious.

I had no interest in romance, and my concept of the romance genre was pretty negative. I was unaware of all the different subgenres out there. Because I thought I would hate writing romance, I resisted it for years.

But once I researched the many subgenres, I found one that was perfect for me. I realized I could write the deep relational dramas I loved—stories that were authentic and featured complex characters, but using a romance engine to drive the plot. I found that perfect niche that gave me the joy I required for writing.

Although I still writing novels in other genres, I am happy to continue endless writing in this romance subgenre because I love it! I believe you can find a genre you love to write in  too.

So you have to decide. You may find that writing primarily for big sales is not for you. That it would require you to give up too much that’s important to you. It would be too much of a sell-out.

That may be true.

What is Selling Out to You?

Think about what “selling out” means to you. To me, it means doing something I don’t want to do, don’t like to do, or don’t believe in, in order to make a buck. If you can find a way to write the kinds of stories you love and structure them to fit into genres that sell well, that’s not selling out. That’s being practical.

If you needed to get a job in the workforce and you had a certain skill set, and the best-paying jobs were in one specific field, say computer tech, and with a bit of training you could actually qualify for a job in that field, would you think you were selling out if you went for it?

Maybe this would not be your dream job, but you knew you could enjoy it. And maybe in time you would be in a position to quit and do the job you really dreamed of doing.

Making the Needed Adjustment

A whole lot of people in the world make that kind of adjustment to have valuable skills in a marketplace. They train and study in order to qualify for that high-paying, steady job in the industries that are thriving and offer great benefits or a secure (if that’s possible) future for their employees.

Similarly, a writer might look at those best-selling genres as the “industries” that are thriving. By writing novels that fit those genres, there is a higher chance of success in terms of sales.

I firmly believe attitude plays a huge part in feeling successful. For, even if a writer is a “flop” according to worldly standards (numbers of copies sold, revenue per title, etc.), she can feel successful in the way that really matters—which is in her own soul. We have to live with ourselves, and the way we measure success can either open the way for great joy or for great misery.

Integrity is important. Some of you might disagree with this statement. But I’m going to spout it. I feel in the long run, for a successful career as a writer, you’ll want to consider this. A writer should never compromise and write garbage just to make a buck.

With anything, you should take pride in your work. Produce the best work you possibly can. This applies to everything you do in life: raising kids, growing a garden, baking a cake. We humans feel fulfillment when we do our best and take pride in our accomplishments. This will serve you well on your writing journey.

Just as those companies that manufacture inferior products with faulty materials with only dollar signs in mind and not customer satisfaction, writers who hack and publish novels that are carelessly thrown together and sold with hype just to make a buck are lacking integrity. And, to me, in the end, all a writer has left is her reputation and integrity. Something to think about.


Why do you write what you write?

What is success to you?

What would constitute selling out?

What genres are you interested in writing, and which ones would you not consider (know your boundaries)?

What are you willing to do (work, compromise) to reach that place of success?

So think all this over: why you write what you write. Think about your goals and then spend some quality time thinking about your writing objectives going forward. To borrow from a quote I love: “A day spent writing isn’t necessarily a great day. But a life spent writing is a great life.”

Featured Photo by JACQUELINE BRANDWAYN on Unsplash

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  1. “A writer should never compromise and write garbage just to make a buck.” I couldn’t agree with you more, and I said so when I shared this with all my FB writers groups. I’m so glad you said this. Sure, I could become a hack. I could prostitute my talent. But I believe I’ve been granted this gift for a reason, and it’s not to be wasted writing crap. Right on!

  2. Knowing why you’re writing keeps you motivated.

    I recently had an interview with an agent discussing a project. He made a similar point. If you’re writing to make money, and want to publish with the Big 4 or 5, and given today’s publishing climate about accepting debut authors who are “aged, white, male” then you really have to be on top of your game. (By the way, he meets my classification as well.) He pointed out the publishing world is looking for voices long under represented. It’s a fact of life. The good news is that those who do not meet this classification have a decent shot at traditional publishing.

    But, there are more ways to publish today than ever before as you’ve discussed in the past.

    Your comments about other motivations to write strike home. They are a good reminder writing is not about making money, but sharing what you know, or think you know, to someone who might want to hear it. Or, to write a good story just to get people to escape, refresh, and relax.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. It’s strange that even though no one’s heard of me, I feel successful. It helps that I have a day job I actually like, especially as I remember Master Ellison’s advice (“Get a day job and write what you want.”) I see writing as life support more than anything else: if it brings you joy, refreshment and fulfillment, do it. When I get an acceptance, that’s icing on the cake.

    I don’t believe it would be wise in any case to write something you don’t really like in order to get a reward. I’d be miserable, missing my own stories, and even if the reward was great, I doubt if it would mean much. There’s also something to be said about being true to yourself, and I’m glad I can say along with Mountain McClintock, “I never took a dive for nobody!”

  4. I’m going to provide a bit different viewpoint… When anyone is striving to reach a goal, especially a creative goal, there will be a lot of resistance. Procrastination, fear, and even loathing of one’s one work can keep them from pushing through to the end. Anyone who has published their first book goes through this. At some point near the end writers just get sick of their story as they do the 10th editing session on their pile of “crap.” The book “The War of Art” talks about this resistance. Writers, artists, musicians… They all go through this at various stages in their creative careers. So this article is helpful to all of us who need to be reminded of the basics of our motivations. Thank you!

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