Why do you write?

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Writing Etc.: Make your writing sparkle, write killer queries, get published. Tips, tools, and techniques to help sell your writing.

December 18, 2014

~~ Notes from Minnesota ~~~

Hey Writing Etc. subscriber,

All my cancerversary tests turned out OK. Liver numbers? Check. Tumor markers? Yup. So far, so good.

So, what do I do with the next six months?

I pondered this question quite a while. Writing is changing. Fees are declining in many markets. New books are flooding Amazon (many aren’t that great, btw).

So, how do you actually make a living as a writer?

From my perspective, I guess that’s what we’ll focus on 2015. In the mean time, if you have any writing friends, I’d be exceedingly grateful if you’d steer them this direction. We need join forces and create a vibrant writing community intent on not only honing our craft, but who take the business side of this endeavor just as serious.

More on all this later.

Beth

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~~~~ Feature Article ~~~~~~~~

Why do you write?

Beth Ann Erickson

Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself why you write?

Sure. You may write to inform. Perhaps you do it to persuade. Some people do it for psychic gratification. Some write for money.

But what do you write? Why do you write it? Why go through the angst of continual critique, challenges to your position, the horror of discovering you’re wrong?

Here’s my take on the subject:

I write because I like to stir my pot. It’s who I am. I ask questions. I make mistakes. I get messy. There are times I side with the underdog only because I want to experience their point of view.

I intentionally place myself in the small edges of the bell curve because I adore experiencing life through the eyes of everyone. Perhaps it’s my newspaper reporting, continually urging me to explore all aspects of the story.

Perhaps it’s because at an early age, as I watched my baby sister slowly die, that experience forever changed the way I viewed life, the way I looked at people, and how so-called imperfections can alter the trajectory of a life, even if that life is painfully short.

Because of that little sister, my life is a continual (and sometimes annoying) adventure. Life is short, if you don’t experience it now, you may run out of time.

Some of my adventures include:

  • Marketing director for a very large metaphysical “university” (Woah, the stories I’ll tell…)
  • Activity director for a local assisted living facility (Adventures in aging.)
  • Personal vegan chef (Interesting lifestyle, easy weight loss.)
  • Foster care provider for local humane society (What some people do to animals is terrible.)
  • Cancer quackery challenger (Want to get people mad? Tell them anyone can get cancer.)
  • Religious commentary writer (Had to be real careful here. Some religious people don’t appreciate questions… evidently.)
  • And a few crazy adventures best left private… (Ha. How’s that for a teaser?)

My point? Every single adventure has added a dimension to that which I call “life.” I write because I have questions. I’m curious. After all this time, I have doubts that will change. There’s nothing worse than thinking, “I wonder what would happen if…” I have to know… through personal experience.

I write because this profession reflects “me” better than any other profession. I can’t be anything but who I am. I’m a writer.

Now… tell me why you write (if you feel comfortable doing so) in the comment section below. Thanks! 🙂

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  • Barb Johnson

    Hello Beth! Great article. So glad you are having good results on the tests. Yeah!

    Why do I write? It is so natural to me. Since I was 7 years old and wrote thank you notes to my family, I’ve been
    writing. Wrote a play in the 4th grade.

    I love to write inspirational articles, resumes, letters, greeting card poems, all sorts of things. In fact, I believe that email was invented for me, because I love writing messages to family, friends and anybody else.

    But now I want to monetize this love. Writing makes me happy, and i’ll even be happier if I can make some money with this talent.

    Hey Beth–let’s get the band back together!

    Barb

    • BethAnnErickson

      Band back together? I’m all for it. I find your writing wonderful and am glad you’ve added your voice to the choir of worldwide writers.

      Thanks for sharing, Barb. — Beth 🙂

  • Thank you, Beth. I needed this to remind myself why I write as I have been wondering lately. I’m a fiction writer, a mostly thankless task. I have had quite a few short stories and flash fiction published, yet I have no idea who reads my work nor do I know if they like it. I have an anthology of these stories with a few new ones added in for (hopefully) extra value on Smashwords, Kindle, iBooks, and Barnes and Noble. It has sold three copies in two years – and I do not know if these three purchasers enjoyed any of the stories. On a bad day, the lack of reviews by said three people makes me think they hated it but not enough to say so. On a good day, I remind myself that the opposite might be true, or perhaps they just don’t like to leave ratings or reviews.

    Recently, I summoned up the courage and the money to send my first novel of 86,000 words to a professional editor, someone I knew and trusted, who edits for large publishing houses, and who I was certain would be fair. It came back to me with 225 comments on the manuscript (although some of those were grammar/punctuation corrections) and five pages of notes on how to improve it. To be fair, he said he enjoyed reading it, that it was a good overall concept with an original mix of genres, likeable or suitably unlikeable characters, and good flow and pace, but his notes and comments concentrated on how to improve it, not what he really liked. He wasn’t negative but when presented with such a LONG list of ‘improvements’, I felt like the stuffing had been knocked out of me. I’d written and rewritten it over a year, twenty minutes a day, while holding down a stressful full-time job in IT which involved travelling time of 1.75 hours each way. I’d expected a lot of comments but not the amount I received. Also, given I know no other writers who have gone through the same process of getting a professional to edit their work, I have no idea if this is normal.

    It really has taken me some time to get over it and feel like I can get into the task of making corrections and rewriting. I’m sure I will ignore some suggestions, but will use and even expand on others. I know it will be a far better piece of work for it. But the question that has been uppermost in my mind is why? Why put myself through this? There are better ways of becoming a better person. Why write? And I realised that I write for similar reasons to you, to honour my demons and my angels, and because I’m not really good at really expressing myself any other way. Because I see the world a little differently and I want to share that. Because nothing gives me greater joy than having the characters I’ve created come alive in my head and tell me what they are doing in the story, despite my plans for them.

    I used to act professionally but gave it up a few years back. When people ask me if I miss it, I say that I miss the acting but not the business – the networking, the constant battle to get auditions, dealing with huge egos, etc. I think I could say the same about writing. I love the creative process. I feel alive when in the midst of it. However, I don’t enjoy the ‘business’ that surrounds it, the ‘getting published’, the silliness of it (e.g. so many journals have editorial committees and rewriting a story to satisfy six opposing opinions is an, ahem, experience), the constant evaluating of opinion and learning to ignore what is not valuable to my process. Yet without the publishing, a writer is merely navel gazing.

    Mind you, the fact that I have no idea if anyone reads or likes my work means I might be navel gazing anyway!

    • BethAnnErickson

      Hey Karen,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your honesty is truly refreshing. I know how you feel… jeepers saying I do it for my “angels and demons” is spot on.

      I once worked with a Nashville songwriter and he called the compulsion to write a “sickness.” I totally understand that sentiment. If it weren’t who I am, I sometimes wish I could just go out and get a “real” job.

      As for reviews, no news is generally good news. If people don’t like it, you definitely hear from them. One of our books once got a one star review because the reader didn’t like the cover. Oh well.

      If your books are written anything like your comment, I have a hunch you’ve got some very good writing chops.

      Keep writing. Keep gazing at that navel. You’re in very good company.

      Take care. — Beth 🙂

  • I think I’ve always been a writer just as I have always been a teacher – I was doing both even back when I was in school! But in adult life the former remained a dream the latter my career until six years ago I moved with my family to do voluntary work in Bangladesh. We returned to the UK at the beginning of 2014 and by that point I had ‘retired’ from the teaching and finally gone full time as a freelance writer.

    I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the money – as a professional of course I am (though I know I’m never going to get rich with this career!). But for me the greater impetus was the need to share with as many people what I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen…and a growing realisation that life is short and once it’s gone those stories go with you unless you get them out there.

    My grandfather had endless (boring) stories of life in India when I was a boy. He died two decades before I would be the first in my family to return there and suddenly half-remembered tales became so very important to me. I kick myself that both he and my gran died before I could note those tales down and keep them forever. I don’t want to make that mistake with my own stories.

    So I write to share – because the world is a facinating place and the more we know about it and about the lives of people so very different to ourselves the better we become (I believe) as human beings.

    • BethAnnErickson

      Hey Ken!

      Thanks for your comment. I, for one, have personal experience with your writing. You’ve got some excellent work out there.

      From what I’ve read, your stories humanize people/cultures that are unfamiliar to many of us. That’s an incredibly important mission, especially these days. I’m glad you’re out there in the trenches highlighting the wonderful, mundane, magical, very human experience of living abroad.

      You’re one person who has made the world a bit better by your being here. And to think, we’re friends who have never met. Hopefully someday, though.

      Thanks for sharing,

      Beth 🙂

      • That’s very kind of you Beth – as always your words are full of encouragement. Yes indeed, one day I hope we will meet up – perhaps when you take on a book of mine (I still hold out hope as you’re the ‘best editor I never worked with’!) 😉

        • BethAnnErickson

          I really hope our paths cross, too. 🙂

  • Like many others, I guess I’ve always been a writer- and a quirky one at that.. I remember in elementary school writing a story about a giant baseball bat that had been cracked in a game. It was trying to destroy the town in which it had been damaged. LOL

    Nowadays I have three great writing loves. 1) Christian fiction (still quirky, but with the point of bringing others to Jesus), and 2) I have a blog that’s basically a Bible study blog about many different topics. The goal here is to help us all make it to heaven and to answer questions that may or may not get covered elsewhere. 3) Serious Christian non-fiction with the goal of helping those that may be involved in whatever subject matter I’m covering.

    It is my prayer that the words I write will somehow help others through another day in this crazy life. I try very hard to write as I feel led by the Lord.

    • BethAnnErickson

      Wow, Michael,

      Thanks for sharing. I think your goal is beautiful.

      I like your “quirky” comment. Yeah, I think many writers could be classified as quirky.

      I wish you so much luck in your endeavour. It’s wonderful to know you’re in the trenches making your corner of faith a bit brighter. Hang in there. Don’t lose heart. Stay strong. Your market can be tough, but I have a hunch you’ll do well as you proceed down your path.

      Best,

      Beth

      • Thanks for the encouragement. It’s definitely slow going.

        • BethAnnErickson

          Sometimes slow going means you’re taking the time to build a strong foundation. 🙂

  • Thank you for the question. I’ve never queried the “why” of my writing since I’m always busy doing it. But the answer for me is that I’m a go-betweener. I try to convey the one to the many – one story, idea, plan, product, etc. to my many readers. Thirty some years of journalism, first time novelist as of last week.

    • BethAnnErickson

      Thanks for sharing, Niki. That’s an awesome thought: to “convey the one to the many.” I like that.

      Kudos on the novel! I wish you the very best on that project. Fiction is a wonderful creative outlet. I’d venture to guess you’ve got many stories after 30 years of journalism. 🙂

  • Wendy VanHatten

    Great post and thought provoking. Why do I write? I enjoy it. I enjoy writing my travel blog and books as I like sharing what I’ve found, tips I learned, and ideas for others. I have no idea if anyone reads my blog or travel books…and that’s okay. I still like writing them. As for my mystery novels, again I enjoy it. I like weaving a tale of intrigue and suspense. If you read them, great. If not, I’m still going to write!
    And…thanks to you for writing!

    • BethAnnErickson

      Hey Wendy,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, it contains some great nuggets any writer could find helpful… just like your newsletters. I’m a subscriber and can wholeheartedly recommend it.

      Thanks again,

      Beth 🙂

      • Wendy VanHatten

        Thanks, Beth. I appreciate it.