Why Write?

Disappointment isn’t something that I deal with well. More often than not I keep things behind the scenes, but occasionally whining slips out—as evidenced by this post I’ve written and quickly put up before I could go and delete it.

But I’ve been thinking I need a new hobby. This writing thing has been great and I truly enjoy it, but the disappointment and rejection tend to build and create this volcano of frustration and self-doubt that threatens to erupt when even the garbage man refuses to buy my new book.


Anyway, I have a couple humor-centric posts coming soon, but that’s where my head is. Stuck up my butt in a constant loop of defeat, researching ways to make creative doilies out of cat hair and perfecting my pitch for “Shark Tank.”

But a friend—a writer friend—alerted me to something she had recently read that might resonate, and yes, yes it did. It’s an introduction to “Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Writers on How and Why They Do What They Do” by editor Meredith Maran.

Below is part of what she had to say:

“Why do writers write? Anyone who’s ever sworn at a blinking cursor has asked herself that question at some point. Or at many, many points.

When the work is going well, and the author is transported, fingers flying under the watchful eye of the muse, she might wonder, as she takes her first sip of the coffee she poured and forgot about hours ago, ‘How did I get so lucky, that this is what I get to do?’

And then there are the less rapturous writing days or weeks or decades, when the muse is injured on the job and leaves the author sunk to the armpits in quicksand, and every word she types or scribbles is wrong, wrong, wrong, and she cries out to the heavens, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’

It’s a curiosity in either case. Why do some people become neurosurgeons, dental hygienists, investment bankers, while others choose an avocation that promises only poverty, rejection, and self-doubt? Why do otherwise rational individuals get up every morning – often very, very early in the morning, before the sun or the family or the day job calls – and willingly enter the cage?

Is it the triumph of seeing one’s words in print? Statistics show this isn’t a reasonable incentive. According to the website Publishing Explained, more than one million manuscripts are currently searching for a U.S. publisher. One percent of these will get the nod.

Nor can we credit the satisfaction of a job well done. As the ever-cheerful Oscar Wilde put it, “Books are never finished. They are merely abandoned.” Only 30 percent of published books turn a profit, so we can rule out material motivation. God knows it can’t be for the boost in self-esteem. To paraphrase Charlie Chaplin’s depiction of actors, ‘Writers search for rejection. If they don’t get it, they reject themselves.’

Why, then, does anyone write? Unlike performing brain surgery, cleaning teeth, or trading books, anyone can pick up a yellow pad or a laptop or a journal and create a poem or a story or a memoir. And, despite the odds against attaining the desired result, many, many people do. We fill our journals and write our novels and take our writing classes. We read voraciously, marveling at the sentences and characters and plot twists our favorite authors bestow upon us. How do they do it? we ask ourselves. And why?”

In 2001, naturalist Terry Tempest Williams addressed the question in “Why I Write” in Northern Lights magazine.

“I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change.”

I don’t know if I would go as far as to say I write in hopes the world will change, but I suppose I write in hopes that my world will change in some way. Writing gives me an escape, and although at times it feels like it makes me a prisoner to my head and leaves me at the mercy of readers who might not be there, I come back. Every day I come back to the words.

And I promise words with less weight in the future, but I just had to vent. Today, that’s what writing is for (the doilies will just have to wait.)

If you write, why do you write? If you read, why do you read?

Like the blog? Buy the NEW book here. Why? It has stories about drunk nuns, Vanilla Ice and adventures at the ATM. Plus, you’ll be cooler than my garbage man. 

58 responses to “Why Write?

  1. I, for one, am so glad that you put fingers to keyboard and thoughts to paper my friend.

    One of my promises to myself this year was to stop asking “WHY?” why do it? why do you think you can do it? and just let my own words answer the questions.

    I know that I am not going to be “THAT WRITER” but if I can be “A WRITER” it’s going to be enough for me.

    incidentally, you have the chops, the words, the stories to be HUGE. I read your book and just sit back in awe at the talent. (Nope, not blowing sunshine up your arse…either)

    Come back to the words…the love affair that fills us up and empties us out and keeps us running back for more.


    • Thanks. Like I said, I write because I like it. But at some point I wish there was some sort of payoff. I will never, ever be “huge,” but I do wish there was some way to get my crap off of the ground. I try, but good lord, it stinks.

      But I’ll keep trying–just as millions of other people do–and I appreciate your support. I throw it all right back to you, 10-fold 😉 XO

      • Abby? your crap is off the ground. You have BOOKS (plural) for sale, you have a following, you have groupies..(don’t shake your head , you do!)

        I will NOT engage in that “everything happens for a reason or at the right time” BS, but I will say that you never know who is going to read this post or who I am going to be spouting to about how funny, amazing, and talented you are. (Yeah, like I matter!) and what door that might open.

        you always have my support, friendship and coke spurting guffaws at your stuff. xo

        • Well thank you, my friend. But anyone can self-publish a book. That doesn’t mean people buy it. However, if I knew I had groupies I would TOTALLY trick them into coming over and mowing my lawn. I need to get on that!

        • I agree with Kir! You do have groupies and books in the world. That’s very cool. Very, very cool. Hang on to that.

          • see Abby? SEE?
            you’re incredible and awesome, so when you feel like you need a cheering section, you just need to look OVER HERE.

  2. Every writer’s been there, Abby. And I’m glad you have this forum to vent. And your venting makes a lot of people (me included) laugh. Not many people can say that. So vent when you need to. Laugh and enjoy it when you want to. Write, write, write, no matter what the topic. You don’t always have to be the court jester. Your readers love you for your writing, no matter what it may be.

    • Thank you. I’ve been here many times before and I know I’ll be here again. There are just days (weeks, months…) when I think I should just take up golf or something. But I don’t have the patience for that and once drive a golf cart into a creek, so that’s probably not my best option.

  3. I write simply because I can’t NOT write.

  4. I don’t write, but I do paint. I’m self taught for the most part (took one class in college where they taught us mixing colors and 2 different techniques, neither of which I use). I can totally relate to what you are saying. I paint as a form of release or relaxation. I rarely know what I’m going to paint before I do it, I just let my emotions and subconscious take over (example the unfinished painting in my blog titled “My Life in Ruins”). I sometimes get down that I don’t think they are good enough to ever be seen in a gallery, I even tried selling them at a local art consignment place near me. I did sell one painting, to a girl who had worked for me at the time. It can feel like you are pouring your soul into something that no one else appreciates. Then I remind myself that ultimately I paint for myself. It helps me to cope with my life in good times and bad, an endless outlet. It also doesn’t hurt that the walls in my house are an ever changing gallery of colors and emotions, even though I’m running out of room to hang them all! Keep your chin up and do it for you, as long as it makes you happy, you’re never a failure.

    Survive Reality, Live the Dream

    • I love just about everything you wrote in this comment, and I’m not just saying that. Art used to be an escape for me as well, a way to try and throw away the rigid perfectionistic tendencies and just create. I need to get back to that with my writing–less analysis, more outlet. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. I was talking about this with a friend the other day, and although our topic was more depression in writers, I think the answer is still pertinent. I think we write because it gives us control. A lot of writers feel at odds with the world, and escaping into fiction gives us the chance to enter a world in which everything happens because we will it to. It doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens; after all, all fiction needs some kind of negativity to drive conflict, but the bad things happen because we choose them to, and we have complete control over their implications. The certainty of fiction gives us sanctuary from a world that we see crumbling all around us.

    • I admire people who write fiction, as that’s totally not in my wheelhouse at all. Depression is though–go me!–and I’ve written about it a lot. There’s no mistaking the fact that many creatives use their art as an outlet from that depression.

  6. I concur, we write because we have to write. The statistics are the byproduct of that. Dude, my stats suck ass, they always have. And I can’t say that doesn’t bother me. But, in the end, I write for me. To work through things and make sense of them. To make myself happy. Which I don’t really do because I’m such a bitch to myself. But, in the rare occassion I do, I feel proud. It happens maybe once a year.

  7. You must keep writing! You are gifted. Not many writers can make me laugh out loud while I’m reading, but you always do.

    I’ve always found happiness in writing. I’ve always used it to work through my feelings, as well as a form of escapism. One thing I will never do again is write fiction – I had to do a year of it at university and it was so damn difficult.

    • Agreed. I don’t know how fiction writers do it. Granted, I make some crap up–I never REALLY interviewed Vanilla Ice, for example–but a whole book? Good lord. No way.

  8. I think of quitting all the time. Daily, even. It’s hard, this writing thing and I’m not really a courageous person so I don’t know why I chose writing! Argh! One thing I did do about a year ago was quick looking at any of my stats whatsoever. It has been surprisingly freeing. I love the quote about “writing to meet my ghosts.” I feel that way. I guess that’s why I do it. Although some of those ghosts are assholes. ps: do you want me to kick the garbageman’s butt? Because I will. p.p.s: I bought your book. And the one before it!

  9. Abby – I love the way you write and I love the reasons behind your writing.

    Much like you – I struggle between loving and hating the things I write. But I continue to write because I have to – it’s as essential as air to me as it.

  10. This was on my mind just the other day – why I write. I’ve never even actively tried to publish anything, so I don’t have actual rejection, just imagined, which might be more pathetic. I’ve read about my favorite authors struggles, and giving up, and I’ve given up too, only to come slogging back to the blank page, because that is where my soul, my solitude in the midst of chaos, finds its poetry and lilt and song and skip for my step. Writing is something I do for my heart, because its who I am. Thank you for this article.

    • And thank you for this comment. Writing–or doing anything you like–isn’t pathetic at all. I’m a bit whiny today, but in general I’m glad that I DO have something I enjoy. There are days when it keeps me afloat (and others when it just weighs me down, but add it to the list.)

  11. I go through this love/hate relationship with writing every. single. day. I guess that, in the end, the “good days” make the “bad days” worth it. I absolutely hate the idea of writing “for a living” because I hate to hustle. I hate having to “sell” myself, prove myself, feel the pressure that comes with showing someone that your WORDS are worth MONEY and the funk that comes with rejection, the anxiety of not hearing back after sending in a pitch, etc. But on those days when someone says, “Yes!”, it all somehow falls into place. I don’t think there’s anything that brings me more joy (EVER!) than getting that elusive “yes”. It’s a special kind of “high” that’s made all the more amazing by all the struggles you’ve endured to get there. I don’t know. Writers are weird. Every day, I want to quit. And every day, I want to keep writing.

    • If you quit, I would quit, as you are kind of my idol (quit rolling your eyes.) And yes, the SELLING SUCKS more than anything. I hate it and suck at it, which might be part of the problem-in more ways than one.

  12. (Woman raising hand, waving.) Totally willing to mow your lawn over here! 🙂
    It doesn’t get worse than continuously hitting the refresh button on your stats page only to have the numbers max out at less than a baby can count. In those times, I remind myself, these words came out of me, my thoughts, my process, my story…whether or not people read it, I created something powerful and meaningful.
    Your writing always speaks to me. Sure, maybe it’s sometimes in the WTF? facial expression of the squirrel I am chasing begging it to dance like it does for you, and sometimes it’s in the tears of truth, of knowing there’s someone else that knows that part of life’s existence.
    It is in the face of disappointment we have the opportunity to evaluate what it is we want, and while that doesn’t always feel good, it can be a powerful place to be.
    Shall I bring the hedge trimmers too, or just the mower?

    • Awesome comment. I am learning from my expensive and embarrassing mistake of doing the second book (so far, anyway) and learning that I have to just let some things go. I dig quality over quantity, and any reader that offers to come mow my lawn is GOLDEN. GOLDEN, I SAY!

  13. I don’t know all the reasons that you write – but I do know that you are very, very good at it.

  14. Yes, Abby. Just yes. Somehow we have to find the payoff in ourselves but you know I know (fun!) exactly what you’re talking about. Persevere, my dear.

  15. I write because I’m my own best friend and I crack myself up. Not for money, not for fame, not for ego, or Id. Just to spend some time with a person I really like. I know that sounds crazy or egotistical but I mean it. That said- my stats suck, but they’re better today then yesterday, and the world keeps revolving no matter whether I can spin or not.

    • Amen. I also crack myself up and am my own best friend as well. We have our ups and downs, but in the end, I stick around.

      • freespirit424

        I’ve never written anything before. I’m not a writer but I do craft on occasion. Being trying to journal for 45 years and every year I buy a new Journal, jot down a few words and don’t touch it again. I’m envious of all you writers and I love reading all the posts. I started the blog because I felt compelled to try and capture some memories that seem to be traveling elsewhere. So far it’s a lot of fun but I spend more time reading posts than commenting or writing. Thanks for so much for all the enjoyment and laughter I’ve been getting..

        • Thank YOU for taking the time to comment. I think the important this is to just write. Who cares if you never read it again or you think that it stinks. When you get ideas out of your head, sometimes things spark. Now go write something 😉

  16. I’ve written two self-published books because I had a story in my head and needed to get it out. I love seeing my two books sitting on my bookshelf with my name on them. I love the idea that someday ~ some relative will see the books and say ….”Oh yes, she wrote!.” And when someone reads my books and tells me they enjoyed them; it makes it worthwhile.

    • Yes to that 100 percent. When someone tells me that they DID read my book and actually laughed and enjoyed it, that means the world. Thanks for the reminder that it’s quality and not quantity with those things. And congrats to you on your books!

  17. Nicely done as always, Abby. I just love to fool with words. It’s fun.

  18. I write because when I do and I like what I’ve done, long before I know whether or not anyone else likes it, I feel euphoric. The act of creation. Whatever. Now if I publish it and get zero response, it definitely sucks the wind out of the sails… and since I reconnected with my writing self I am both so much happier and also so much more frustrated…. but I don’t think I can let it go again.

  19. I downloaded your book yesterday. If my kids leave me alone, tonight, I shall read it, you have my word. But, it’s in my kindle.

    I know I’ve written about why I write, a lot. But it bears repeating for your excellent post.

    I write because I have to. I write because it’s as much as who I am as being a husband, father, and overall duuuuuuude.

    I’m a writer. Like you. You’re funnier than I am and I make up fiction and play more songs than you. But we write.

    Hope your mom had a good birthday.

    • I know you get it, but you’ve also had a ton of success with your book so zip it 😉 Kidding. No pun intended, but you know that we’re on the same page. We’re both a wee bit crazy but we write. Because we have to.

  20. Your book is on my list of ones I want to read, but right now I’m having a bit of a financial crisis, so it will have to wait a bit longer.

    I write because I need to. It’s a way of getting through tough times, but it’s also something that brings a lot of pleasure. I love being able to create a character and bring them to life. Perhaps I have a God complex.

    When I write I often have no idea where it will lead. I might have a vague idea of what I want to write about, but no idea where that story will go. Once a character starts developing their own personality, I feel like they start leading the story, and often we end up in places I had no idea I wanted to go. It’s an exciting adventure for me.

    Some of my stories will never be seen by anyone but me. Others I have put out there have had limited response. I don’t know whether I’m a good writer or not, but I’m not going to let that little detail stop me from writing.

    I think you are a fantastic writer, Abby. Don’t be put off. Unfortunately with the advent of e-publishing every man and his dog can publish a book, and it’s getting harder to sift through to find the quality writing that yours is. I think nowadays the success of a book depends more on your ability to pimp yourself and demand people give you 5-star ratings than actual writing talent.

    • Yup. You need to spend money to make money (ahem, promotion and time to pimp yourself out) but if you don’t have the money, you’re kind of up crap creek. But it’s comments from people–from writers–like you that are what make this thing so darn cool. We all relate and can sift through the crap to find our “people.” Thank you so much!

  21. Writing is hard that way, and I can so understand why you wrote this post. You have to put yourself out there if you want to sell a copy. It is a reflection of you, but it’s not you. It’s all frigged up that way. Of course, if I wrote fiction (which I highly admire because I suck at it), I would be able to hide and say that it’s the characters or something of the sort. People just aren’t into science fiction this week or something. When it’s memoir-ish, it is you on the page, you writing it. It gets icky, but it can also be, to steal Amy’s word, euphoric. I have a quote on the bathroom mirror, “I am happy when I am writing.” It is the one thing that, when I’m doing it, I’m happiest.

  22. nataliedeyoung

    I write for those same reasons. Through writing, I see the world and myself more clearly.
    Although, a book deal would be nice, too. 😉

  23. I’m grateful you shared this, because it resonates with me, too. And I’m grateful that you’re willing to say it resonates with you, because it makes me feel less alone. And I’m grateful that you keep coming back to your computer to write, because I love both your weighty words and your doilies. 🙂

  24. I started writing because I could never get a word across in a room surrounded by people who loved the sound of their own voice. I have a pretty voice too dammit! And I read because the stories are simply too irresistible.

    I guess I write because I too want to be as irresistible as the last book you could not put down until it fell on your face and poked your eye out.

  25. I think the reason I write is I can’t get anyone else to listen to me but we all have our own reasons. I’m a fan of your writing if its any comfort.

  26. The readers are here. 🙂

  27. A reader left a response to my latest post that read in part, “This one really moved me… you have no idea.” That, in a nutshell, is why I write. To touch others. Few things bring me greater fulfillment at this point in my writing life.

  28. I mainly write so that I have a record of my life to look back on when, perhaps, the memory gets a little foggy. I read because it’s nice to escape my own reality for a while.

  29. Your blog was one of the very first I ever read. And as the story goes, since then, we’ve become friends, and got to know each other – and yet even amongst the familiarity – your writing still blows me away.

    Keep writing.
    Your writing is like my running.
    Sometimes it makes no sense why we do it.
    But it’s what we do.

  30. I read your blog because you make me laugh, loudly, and repeatedly, all in a single post. I’ve actually read passages of your posts to the Hubby because I think they’re that funny.
    For me, I write because as much pain as it can bring, it gives me pleasure. I feel like I’m using my mind, tapping into that creative well…or something (my muse just left; I think she got distracted by a squirrel).

  31. I wrote a lot as a kid and into HS, but once I started my degree in English I actually stopped. Obviously not completely because my last semester in college I had at least 3 papers due every week (not exaggerating), but I stopped journaling and writing for pleasure.

    Then I fell into a career of writing contracts and business specifications and while I was proud I managed to find something that made my degree seem useful (other than the having of it), I didn’t write for pleasure.

    Sometimes I would write long emails to groups of friends explaining something funny that happened, and people would tell me to blog… but it seemed so self-important to put it out in the universe like that. “Look world… I had a bad day… you must care that my socks don’t match.”

    And then when the friendly bullies became relentless I started blogging. I didn’t have a voice exactly, or a direction, but I had lots and lots of stories. And now it’s 10 months later and I’m still not sure I’ve found my voice. And I’m pretty sure I only have 5 readers. But I can’t stop telling the universe that my socks don’t match.

    So that’s why I write. Because someone just HAS to know. I don’t know what this says about me, but I’m okay with it.

  32. Words have been my obsession since I knew what they were. I taught myself how to read before kindergarten so I didn’t have to wait for people to read to me. I read because the world is not just what I can see and hear in my own head and my own space. I write because there’s a universe that lives in my head where I can allegorically figure out my own life, I can make things how I want them to be and paint the pictures I see before I go to sleep. Everything is a story 🙂 No doubt, you are a writer and I’m glad you sit down to do it- I’m always happy when your posts pop up in my inbox, because it doesn’t matter if you’re being funny or serious, it’s always worthwhile.

  33. stephanieliselamoureux

    You have to write for the words and for yourself, in the end you can’t write for others, that is just an added bonus to the passion of writing. The writing is about YOU, well it is for me, because if I worry too much about readers I will never write enough or good enough, it has to be enough for me. Just a thought.

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