WHY Do Writers Do It?

Last week I shared some of the myths that people have about what it’s like to be a published author, and then I also gave a glimpse into some of the realities I’ve experienced (See The Myths and Realities of Being a Published Author). I loved ALL of your comments in response! Here are just a couple:

Medical suspense author, Dr. Richard Mabry said this: “James Scott Bell told a group I was in one time that the average writer would earn more as a greeter at Wal-Mart than from writing. Despite having two novels published, a third coming out soon, and a fourth on the way, I'd have to say I meet his definition of an average writer...doggone it.”

And historical author, Sarah Sundin commented: “I was able to calculate how much I earned for my three-book series. Just over $2 an hour. I made more slinging hamburgers at Carl's Jr in 1983. Royalty checks are pushing me closer to minimum wage, but I still haven't reached it . . . no, Oprah has not called.”

Eric W. Trant said: “My first royalty check for a story in a short anthology was less than $100. So there you go. Dinner's on me! The rich-and-famous writer!”

If not for the fame, the fortune, and the fantastic work hours, WHY do writers do it? Why do we work such long hours, why do we sacrifice so much, why do we keep at it day after day, year after year against such adversity and tight competition?

As one of my twitter friends once joked about the writing life, if writers want to do something easier, then they should take up neurosurgery.

What is it about publication and writing that appeals to so many of us?

There’s always the chance we can make it big.

Anything is possible if we work hard and long enough. With a little bit of talent, a little bit of luck, and the hand of Providence, anything can happen. Becoming a best seller isn’t impossible (and neither is winning the lottery).

Patricia W said this tongue-in-cheek in the comments of last week’s post, but there is a ring of truth to it: “Terry McMillan said her first royalty check for Waiting to Exhale was like $2M. Needless to say, most authors don't earn anything near that, but the possibility does exist. Wouldn't want to kill the dream by being too firmly planted in reality.”

We long to communicate what’s inside us with others.

Whether non-fiction, fiction, memoir, or otherwise, writing is a medium in which we communicate deeply with other human beings. We can encourage, entertain, teach, help, etc. Whatever our goal in our writing, we long for our words to be digested by others, for them to experience them the way we intended.

Since the release of my book, I’ve realized just how much I appreciate hearing from readers—hearing how my book impacted them, or how they stayed up late reading it, or cried at the end. Knowing my words connected with someone and moved them makes all of the hard work and heartache worth it. It truly does.

Writing feeds our souls.

Karen Walker said this about the money she’s making from her writing: “It won't feed anyone, but the writing feeds me and hopefully, those who read it.”

We were made to create—whether through art, music, inventions, ideas, hobbies, or through stories and the written word. There’s a place in all of us that longs to express ourselves, and when we do, we find something deeply satisfying and fulfilling about the process. The creative act nourishes and replenishes us.

The love of writing consumes us.

In today’s market, publication isn’t easy, (both before and after). There’s no guarantee of making it big, communicating with readers, or even feeding our souls. Sometimes with the amount of time and energy we put into writing, the quest can even begin to drain us.

Roni Loren said, “The only people who should get in to this field are those who simply just love to write.” And Sarah Sundin summed it up well with the rest of her comment, “I love writing, must write, can't not write! The fact that anyone's willing to pay me at all is a major blessing and a deep honor.”

Ultimately, when it’s all said and done, those who stick with writing for the long haul are those who are consumed with a passion for it. We’re in love with telling stories and spinning words, and would do it anyway, whether paid or not.

What about you? Which of the reasons I listed above best describes your motivation for writing? Are there any other reasons why people write or pursue publication?


  1. The last three pretty much sum it up for me. Great post today, Jody!

    As far as making it big, well, no doubt about it, that would be cool! But that's not what keeps me writing through the hurt of rejection and the agony of waiting.

  2. I love that you included their quotes, esp. since I missed that post.
    Yep, why do I keep writing? I know for a fact that I can go long periods of time without writing fiction. But I'm still thinking it all the time! So many stories in my head. And now that I know how to finish a WIP, it just seems natural to write these stories out of my head. Plus, I love the feeling of being immersed in a story when I'm typing. Everything else kind of blanks out. *happy sigh*

  3. I loved the quotes you listed, and it's interesting to hear published authors speak on their "salary". As with anything, you gotta love it to keep at it.

  4. Awesome comments from that post, Jody. yeah, I think every person dreams of making a living at the thing they love doing. But I also think many people love just finding that thing they love doing. That's why I write. Although, I'm considering giving up the editing part. :)

  5. I took a class once and a well known romance writer told us that most writers make less than half of what I make in a year (and I am a school teacher!).

    With that knowledge, all my wonderful fantasies of my husband saying, "Of course, you can quit your job and write full time." faded into nothingness.

    I write for my own sanity. I had plenty of imaginary friends as a child who had stories to tell. Now they are grown up and still have stories to tell.

  6. Since at least half of my writing has appeared in non-paying markets, I'm certainly not doing it for the money! Writing is just something I have to do. I made a major life shift about a year ago and decided to pursue writing whole-heartedly, giving it my all.

  7. Jody, the last three points sum it up for me. Most people assume that we writers are raking in the money. We wish it was that. :)

  8. Well, in a way this is a depressing post. (I really wanted to get rich) But mostly, it's encouraging. There are very real reasons that we do what we do. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great follow up to last week's post!

    I think like any other career, you have to be passionate about it. That alone will leave you spirtually fullfilled, whether the money comes or not!

    I write because that's the only thing that can get me up and excited everyday. That passion helps me get through all of the other mundane stuff in my life!

  10. I keep writing mainly because it's my own personal outlet. It is sometimes the only way I can express things. A simple phrase in my notebook, written down, can do wonders for my day. There is a beauty in words that keeps me going.

    I also write because I know what reading did for me and I hope that another little girl can get the same inspiration and imagination that I got.

  11. I'm learning that I write because I need to. It's sort of a cathartic experience to pull out a story and interact with my characters and their lives. There's a quote by Lord Byron that puts this desire more eloquently: "To withdraw myself from myself has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all."

  12. thescribblerross, That's an awesome quote! Love it! Thanks for sharing it! :-)

  13. You mean someone already used the title "Waiting to Exhale"!?!? Crud. Back to the drawing board. ;)

  14. I write because I'm good at it, and it puts food on the table. And, truth to tell, I suffered through a long, debilitating illness (marked by 14 years of daily migraines) that left me unable to hold a traditional job.

    I started working on a YA novel because of those lost years, because I have more to say than I've been able to say. It's been an interesting journey and, if I'm successful, I will have a great story to tell about overcoming obstacles. It's never been about money.

    The funny thing — something that I didn't expect — is that writing fiction has brought healing. Ultimately, my late middle reader is about forgiveness. My main character needs to heal, and so do I.

  15. Thank you for this! For me, the love of storytelling trumps all. I love the comment that it's a privilege that someone's willing to pay me to do this. Even if I knew for certain I'd never make much money, I wouldn't be able to stop writing.

    I don't comment as often as I should, but I just wanted to say I love your blog! Thanks for sharing yourself with the rest of us. :)

  16. My big motivation for writing is that a) I love to write and b) I love the topics I write about. And, I have to admit that while I haven't made millions in the publishing process, it's been really, really fun. It's worth that $2/hour.

  17. Yes, yes! We writers are a unique bunch. I love the comments. I personally dont want to make it big. I just want my words to get out there and bless the way I have been blessed by the words of many other authors. Thanks for showing us all sides of this complex industry. Bottom line - it's the heart, not the pocketbook that drives most of us. You gotta love that!

  18. I’ve always wanted to be able to make people smile or think or be taken away for a while. I’ve done this though many avenues: dance, drama, art, games, now writing.

  19. I think you're right on all those counts. I'm not a talker, I hate talking, can never say what I really want to say. But writing. I love to write, so this is definitely my way to communicate with people.

    And it feeds my soul and consumes me too.

    Thanks for your post.

  20. I have all these characters in my head. Multiple personalities, so to speak. I write to keep from actually going crazy.

  21. On Facebook, Richard Doetsch said about his latest book, "The Thieves of Darkness - James Rollins called it a masterwork, I call it tuition payments." I thought that pretty much summed up writing. It's just like any other job and for many, they need a second job to support it.

    If it's something we love to do, we just have to do it. There's no choice for us.

  22. "There’s a place in all of us that longs to express ourselves." That sums it up for me. Do I dream of someday having my novels published and being paid? Of course. But if neither ever happens I'll still be writing. Now that I've discovered the exhilaration of spilling my words across pages there's no going back. :)

  23. I don't have any illusions about making it big. In fact, fat chance. It'd be nice to think that writing would feed my stomach, but the reality is that my soul feeds off the writing. And I hope it feeds others. That's enough for me. Though I think my husband would like to see cold hard cash--and lots of it.

  24. I've made a little money this year by writing magazine articles, but I think I'm earning a couple of pennies an hour. Thankfully, my husband is the breadwinner, so I don't feel the pressure to earn money.

    However, even if I did need to bring in money by getting a real job, I'd still be writing! I just love it too much to stop. I love doing research for nonfiction (I mean, totally, totally love it). I love plotting a new story and actually finishing it. I'm just blessed to be in the game.

  25. I loved the comments you listed. For me, I write because I can't NOT write. Even if no one besides my family reads my words, it's something I need to do.

  26. Jody I love what you shared here today! All three of these main points resonate deeply with me! ;) Thank you for continuing to share such helpful advice! many blessings to you and your unfolding journey! hugs, Jenn

  27. I love reading your post because you always pin exactly how I feel or answer a question I didn't even know I had.

    Awesome post!

  28. Jody, when I'm late to the party, as I often am these days, I wonder if my comments will even get read or matter, but I do want you to know I'm here and reading. I definitely am not motivated by the thought of making it really big. I honestly can say...I don't think I would want that. I really mean that! But I do love the power that words carry and the thought that I might affect people in a good way with mine. There are few things as wonderful.

    Keep on enjoying the thrill of the ride you're on!


  29. Karen Walker's comment is spot on. Descibes my desire to write perfectly. Why writing feeds me though, is another question. I can't imagine not doing it, but I can't actually pinpoint 'why'. I suppose you then have to ask yourself if you really 'need' a answer to the 'why'. Why was I born female? Because that's just how I was made. I guess that's my answer to the 'why' regarding writing. :o)

  30. I love to write. I know that part will never change, it just might change in what medium I write. I love the thought that maybe something I went through might be relevant to someone else.

  31. Thanks for the mention! :)

    And I totally agree with your take on it (as usual, lol.) I don't think any of us would turn down "making it big", but that's not why we're doing it. And even though the money isn't always great, I think that hearing back from readers is quite a rich payment. I look forward to (and am terrified of, lol) hearing what readers think once my book comes out!

  32. I just love the thought that something I wrote entertained or moved someone. And if I can make some spare change from it all the better:)

  33. LOL! Didn't think I'd be quoted. I was actually serious, but I guess it's kind of tongue-in-cheek.

    Yes, we need to be well rooted in reality, but we can't let reality drive what we do. First, if you do, it means you have no hope that tomorrow's reality will be different than today's. Second, it also says something about the extent to which you believe in yourself, your craft and your ability to get better. If you don't believe and you have no hope, why bother?

    So many young people have no hope, which is one reason why they make such poor decisions. If tomorrow isn't going to be any better than today, I might as well...

    But if they could dream really big--really, really big--and believe in their dreams, they'd be more motivated not to screw up the possibilities.

    One of the best--and worst--decisions I ever made was to enter a technical field because it promised held more financial promise. More money? Maybe, although still not as much as I had hoped. Fun and fulfillment? Very little. In the big picture, which matters more?

  34. Thank you Jody.
    I recently overheard someone listing "author" as a well-paid profession, and I struggled not to laugh too loudly. Although I've only had poetry and short stories published, I know that novelists don't make much more money per hour than I do.
    I write because I love to. I write because I like to share my thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and imagination with others.
    I know there probably won't be a million dollar paycheck in my future . . . but alas, I haven't totally given up all crazy hope of that.

  35. Great post. I love reading why others write. For me, it's definitely that writing feeds my soul -- and I simply can't resist it :)

  36. I write because it keeps my mind engrossed! Writing keeps me active and makes me think about different things I see around me. These are often captured in my writings. I write because it gives me an opportunity to share my stories with others-whom I would never have come across otherwise.

  37. I write because it keeps my mind engrossed! Writing keeps me active and makes me think about different things I see around me. These are often captured in my writings. I write because it gives me an opportunity to share my stories with others-whom I would never have come across otherwise.

  38. Yes, when my husband and I calculate how much time goes into my writing and how much monetary return there is, he always comes out a little puzzled. Don't get me wrong; he's very supportive. But he's come to grips with the fact that he won't be retiring on my writing income. :)

    The writing life - I do it because it is what I am called to do. Enjoyed this post, thanks so much!

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